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Reseach and Academics

In addition to seeing patients in his clinical practice, Dr. Grillone has a very active academic and research practice. He is an associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine and is frequently invited to speak and lecture to other physicians. In addition, he has a number of research projects including studies evaluating new treatments for papillomas and vascular lesions of the larynx. Dr. Grillone also developed a new technique for treating vocal cord paralysis and is currently reviewing his series of patients who have undergone this technique. He is also collaborating with scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a study evaluating the use of spectroscopy for the early detection of head and neck cancers. Please see the article below recently published in the Boston Medical Center News December 2006-January 2007 issue discussing the spectroscopy study.

New Study Aims for Early Diagnosis of Oral Cancer

Researchers at Boston University Medical Center (BUMC) recently began investigating a new oral cancer detection method that may avoid the need for biopsies; speed up diagnoses; and, pave the way for “one-stop” diagnosis and treatment.

In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, BUSM and SDM researchers hope to determine if a new, noninvasive method using light reflectance and fluorescence can provide comparable or supplemental information to biopsy, which is the standard diagnostic procedure. The study will enroll 280 subjects.

“For oral cancer, diagnosis starts with a visual inspection followed by an invasive biopsy and microscopic examination of the cells,” said principal investigator Gregory Grillone, M.D., vice chairman of the department of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery at BUMC and associate professor of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery at BUSM. “Currently, diagnosis of early malignancies of the oral cavity and other areas of the head and neck still relies on one or more biopsies, which can be traumatic to the patient and may require general anesthesia or even a short hospital stay. Moreover, many lesions that look suspicious turn out not to be cancerous, and vice versa.”

In collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Grillone and his colleagues are testing an experimental clinical instrument known as trimodal spectroscopy that allows clinicians to distinguish between cancerous and noncancerous tissue at the time of a patient’s examination and in a noninvasive manner.

In a quick, painless procedure, researcher-clinicians place a thin, flexible fiber-optic probe against the lesion or suspicious tissues in the mouth or upper digestive tract. The fiber optic shines light on the tissues and collects the reflected and fluorescent light, which produces data for the clinicians to analyze. Any structural changes in the tissue will indicate disease.

While oral cancer occurs primarily among people age 40 and older and account for just 2-4 percent of all cancers diagnosed each year in the Unites States, only one-half of these are living five years after the diagnosis, according to Grillone.

“BMC encounters an unusually high percentage of late-stage head and neck cancers, so we are keenly aware of the need for new procedures that encourage more widespread screening,” said Grillone.