Student Researcher Receives One Health Grant

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July 21, 2020 | Downers Grove, IL

Mourad Kerdjoudj (CCOM 2023) received a Student One Health Research Grant.

The oral cavity is a prime site for the development of cancer, since it comes into direct contact with many carcinogens, such as tobacco, alcohol, and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). As a result, oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is one of the most common malignancies worldwide, and it kills one patient every hour on average. Importantly, OSCC survival rate has not significantly changed over the past few decades. This is largely due to difficulties in early detection and diagnosis, and the dependence on morphological pathology examination alone. Thus, there is an urgent need for molecular biomarkers that can accurately diagnose oral cancers, predict clinical outcomes, monitor disease progression and relapse, and potentially help guide treatment options.

Student researcher Mourad Kerdjoudj (CCOM 2023) received a Student One Health Research Grant to work on establishing the utility of two newly-discovered proteins, Cornulin and DJ-1, as diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for oral squamous cell carcinoma. Tumor progression occurs via multiple steps involving genetic alterations in tumor cells that confer growth and survival advantages over normal cells. The most consequential genetic mutations affect the growth-inhibiting tumor suppressor genes and the growth-promoting proto-oncogenes, such as Cornulin and DJ-1, respectively. Mr. Kerdjoudj, under the guidance of his faculty mentor Hilal Arnouk, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pathology, is currently measuring Cornulin and DJ-1 expression levels in cell lines representing the successive tumor progression stages of oral squamous cell carcinoma.

“The takeaway from this project will hopefully be a novel method of using these two biomarkers as prognostic indicators of oral cancer and thus, facilitating earlier diagnosis and treatment,” Mr. Kerdjoudj  said. “With this project being a part of One Health and its focus on the parallels between oral cancers in humans and pets, specifically cats and dogs, it has served to remind me how interconnected the world around us is and how our health needs as humans can manifest in a similar manner in our pets.”

Traditionally, pathologists have morphologically categorized cancer tissue biopsies based on their appearance under the microscope. On the other hand, molecular diagnostics tools enable the objective mapping of global expression patterns of genes and proteins in the cell. The researchers will utilize the recent techniques of proteomics to uncover “molecular signatures” associated with the multi-step carcinogenesis process that can then be used to complement and augment the predictive power of morphological pathology examination, which translates from bench-to-bedside by improving the five-year survival rate in patients inflicted with oral cancer. Mr. Kerdjoudj is currently training to acquire the theoretical knowledge and technical expertise in proteomics, a very valuable tool for future doctors in the era of Precision Medicine.

Midwestern University's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) supports a variety of opportunities for students to participate in a wide range of research projects on campus. The University’s One Health Research Grants are designed to promote research partnerships across disciplines and to provide additional opportunities for students to benefit from working with faculty mentors on meaningful research projects. “A couple of things that I have learned so far during this experience is that science takes a great deal of patience, meticulous work, and problem solving. I hope that I will be able to fall back on this experience as a physician in the future,” Mr. Kerdjoudj added.