Case Head + Neck Cancer Research Collaborative

The Case Head and Neck Cancer Research Collaborative is a partnership between the Department of Biological Sciences at the School of Dental Medicine and the Department of Otolaryngology at the School of Medicine and University Hospitals that is organized around the scientific focus of improving the diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancers. This translational research initiative seeks to bring novel therapeutics to the treatment of head and neck cancers based on rational pre-clinical investigation. 

Research projects ranging from basic science projects to clinical trials have resulted in seminal discoveries regarding the immunology and progression of head and neck cancers. Ground-breaking research into the discovery of a novel biomarker for early stage head and neck cancers is led by Dr. Aaron Weinberg and involves international collaborations in Uganda and Taiwan, among others. The Comprehensive Head and Neck Database led by Dr. Chad Zender was launched in 2015 and includes an open-access biorepository and data registry focused on the collection of clinical data and quality human biospecimens from cancer, oral disease, and healthy patients.

The program is currently funded through various avenues, including NIH grants, departmental support, institutional support, and philanthropic efforts. 

Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancers (HNC) arise from mucosa lining the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, larynx, sinonasal tract, and nasopharynx. It is most common in the form of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and it responsible for approximately 4% of all malignancies worldwide with at least 600,000 new cases diagnosed each year. 


The goal of this multidisciplinary, disease-based translational program is to integrate the pre-clinical research at the School of Dental Medicine and clinical research programs in head and neck cancer at University Hospitals and promote inter-professional activities across multiple fields that play a role in the diagnostics and treatment related to head and neck cancer.

To achieve the goal of improved patient outcomes via rapid translation of tumor biology to the clinic, the program encompasses laboratory efforts in cancer biology, research and clinical pathology, and clinical research services. Specific focus has been placed on developing and identifying methods for therapeutic and diagnostic tumor marker development.

This broad effort is centered on the main medical disciplines in head and neck cancer:

  • otolaryngology head and neck surgery
  • medical oncology
  • radiation oncology
  • tumor immunology
  • dental medicine

In addition to the research conducted on-site at CWRU and University Hospitals, the program engages in international research in Uganda and Taiwan in efforts to create sustainable infrastructure in endemic populations. 

Research Facilities

The Program encompasses all studies associated with head and neck cancer and related oral conditions. Research is carried out in laboratories located in the School of Dental Medicine, the School of Medicine, and University Hospital's Wearn Building. These buildings contain facilities dedicated for animal experimentation, tissue culture, electrophysiology, and high throughput screening to identify small molecule drugs. 

The strength of the program is enhanced by an excellent interdisciplinary and collaborative intellectual environment at the School of Dental Medicine, School of Medicine, and proximity to world-class facilities and institutions, including University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth Medical Center. The teaching atmosphere fosters a high level of care, ensuring that diagnostic procedures and medical/surgical treatment represent the most advanced medical knowledge and technology available.