Yi Ye, MS, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the New York University College of Dentistry and associate director of clinical research operations at the Bluestone Center for Clinical Research, has been awarded a two-year grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to investigate the link between oral cancer pain and Schwann cells, which surround, insulate, and support nerve axons.
Pain from oral cancer degrades the patient’s quality of life and impedes eating and speaking. It is treated with opioids, which have severe side effects because they broadly affect the central nervous system. They also become ineffective after patients develop tolerance to them and place patients at risk of addiction. Ye’s work will lay the foundation for a non-opioid approach to combat pain at the site of the cancer.
Ye has discovered that Schwann cells are activated by oral cancer and revert to a more primitive type of cell when they are adjacent to oral cancer cells. She now seeks to determine whether cancer-activated Schwann cells release pain mediators and potentially develop a pain control strategy that deactivates them.
“I hope to demonstrate a causal relationship between Schwann cell activation and oral cancer pain and identify mediators produced by Schwann cells that activate or sensitize neurons,” Ye said.