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Grantee Spotlight: Sunday O. Akintoye, B.D.S., D.D.S., M.S.- Studying the Biology of Bone Cells to Reduce Head and Neck Cancer Treatment Complications

, by CRCHD Staff

Head and neck cancers include cancers of the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, and larynx (voice box). Treatment of these cancers often produces jaw bone complications since jaw bone stem cells behave differently than other bone cells in the body. Any amount of radiation or chemotherapy (even low dose treatments) can kill these cells and pose serious complications. Approximately 26% of head and neck cancer patients do not survive the first year after diagnosis due to cancer severity and treatment complications.

Sunday O. Akintoye, B.D.S., D.D.S., M.S., an Associate Professor of Oral Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Dental Medicine in Philadelphia, is studying the behavior of jaw bone stem cells and complications related to cancer treatment. The goal of his research is to restore and regenerate these unique cells so the jaw bone can be repaired following cancer treatment

Radiation therapy is used as a treatment for cancer because it kills rapidly growing cancer cells. However, it can also kill stem cells within the jaw bone and these bone cells are unable to heal normally. Radiation therapy can cause cell death in 10% of patients that receive low dose radiation and there is no definitive treatment for this condition.

Akintoye is clinician-scientist and NCI-CRCHD CURE Grantee with a K22 award. K22 awards were designed to facilitate the establishment of a record of independent research by the investigator in order to sustain or promote a successful research career. “The K22 grant came at the right time for me,” says Akintoye. “It played a key role and was the main factor in receiving tenure and promotion to associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.” Prior to receiving his K22 Award, Akintoye was a CRCHD CURE K08 grantee which he says helped catapult his career in cancer research. Unlike the K22, which is a non-mentored award, the K08 award is a mentored career development award that enables trainees to acquire the research expertise needed to pursue a career in laboratory-based biomedical cancer research.

“My K08 grant focused on why the jaw bone cells are different than other bone cells in the body,” says Akintoye. The K22 was a follow-up to study the effects of radiation treatment and to further understand why jaw bone cells are highly susceptible to radiation damage.

Eventually, Akintoye hopes to move on to the next step in the training pipeline and receive an R01 research project grant so that he might be able to understand “how the jaw bone stem cells talk to other cells” and “develop new techniques to prevent jaw bone cell death and slow down or heal radiation damage when it is occurring.” His CRCHD CURE K08 and K22 awards helped to lay a foundation for his research and allowed him to collect the necessary data to apply for an R01 grant.  

Akintoye was born in Nigeria. He received his B.D.S. degree in 1980 from the University of Lagos Dental School. He subsequently earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery in 1995 from the New York University College of Dentistry and his Master of Science degree in Oral biology in 1998 from New York University.

He came to the United States in 1988 because he felt that the U.S. has highly advanced medical technologies and infrastructure that would allow him to accomplish his scientific goals.

He completed a two-year oral medicine residency/fellowship followed by two years of postdoctoral training at NIH through the National Institutes of Dental and Craniofacial research and at the NIH Clinical Center. Akintoye says this experience at NIH furthered his knowledge of bone biology and state-of-the-art cancer therapies. He explained that he was “exposed to patients going through different therapies and it opened my eyes to research questions that needed to be addressed.”       

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