AACR-Mark Foundation Grant to Support Fatemeh Momen-Heravi’s Disparities Research

February 25, 2021

Fatemeh (Flora) Momen-Heravi, DDS, PhD, has been awarded a “Science of the Patient” grant from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research. The three-year, $750,000 award will support Dr. Momen-Heravi’s research into the existing racial disparities in head and neck cancer.

Dr. Flora Momen-Heravi

Dr. Flora Momen-Heravi (Photo: Bekah Mulberg)

A member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) and an assistant professor at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, Dr. Momen-Heravi is a clinician-scientist whose lab aims to identify signaling mechanisms and tumor vulnerabilities in head and neck cancer and lung cancer. Her lab also works on novel genome editing technologies based on the CRISPR/CAS framework and studies exosomes as precision medicine tools to treat cancer.

Head and neck cancers are one of the most common cancer types worldwide and account for over 300,000 deaths each year. There continues to be only about a 50% five-year survival rate even after surgery. This poor prognosis is due to head and neck cancer’s tendency to both reappear and metastasize to other parts of the body. Epidemiological data also has demonstrated another urgent matter in head and neck cancer, one that has caught the attention of Dr. Momen-Heravi and her collaborators.

“Health care disparities is a research area that has not been well addressed for head and neck cancer, and this includes disparities that exist between white and Black patients in terms of screening, detection, treatment, and survival for head and neck cancer,” says Dr. Momen-Heravi, a member of the HICCC's Tumor Biology and Microenvironment program. “Although socioeconomic and environmental factors play a heavy role in these disparities observed, head and neck cancer rates among different racial groups cannot be attributed to these factors alone. We are interested in the role race plays on a cellular and molecular level in head and neck cancer. There is still much to learn here.”

Dr. Momen-Heravi, with close collaborator Dr. Alison Taylor and other members in the head and neck cancer group at the HICCC, will work to uncover some of the molecular uniqueness of head and neck cancer that may be present in different racial groups. The aim of the work is to aid in the development of patient-specific and targeted treatment options for head and neck cancer.

“With the support of the AACR and the Mark Foundation, we hope this research can bring us one step closer in closing the racial disparities that currently exist in head and neck cancer,” says Dr. Momen-Heravi.

The AACR-Mark Foundation “Science of the Patient” grants help fuel novel research aimed at understanding the influence of the patient’s biology on the genesis, development, treatment, and survivorship of cancer. Dr. Momen-Heravi is expected to receive the honor at the Annual Meeting of the AACR in April.