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Amm awarded R21 grant to study non-invasive imaging of rare tumor

  • September 13, 2021

This grant will allow Amm to develop a new pre-clinical model for surgically removing ameloblastomas to reduce the chance of recurrence in patients.  

Headshot of Hope Amm, Ph.D. This grant will allow Hope Amm, Ph.D., to develop a new pre-clinical model for surgically removing ameloblastomas to reduce the chance of recurrence in patients.
(Photography: Steve Wood)
The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Hope Amm, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Dentistry’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, has received an R21 award from the National Institutes of Health for $275,000 to develop a new method to conduct non-invasive imaging of ameloblastomas.  

Ameloblastomas are rare, noncancerous tumors that develop most often in the jaw. Although this type of tumor is rare, it can cause pain and swelling, change the shape of the face, uproot or move teeth, or spread to the nose, eye socket or skull. Amm’s latest NIH funding will allow her to develop a new pre-clinical model to determine the best method to take images of the tumors before or during surgery to reduce the chance of recurrence.  

“Since ameloblastomas are rare, this patient population is often overlooked when it comes to research for this condition,” Amm said. “Most of the research that is done on ameloblastomas looks at the protein found in the tumor, but very little research is based on improving surgical outcomes. We are researching the best way to label this tumor, so physicians can visualize where the entire tumor is when they go in to remove it. If you do not get all of the tumor during surgery, it will just continue to grow back, so we are hoping to find ways to prevent this from happening.”  

This pre-clinical study will look at two types of antibodies — fluorescent and radiolabeled antibodies — to determine which antibody is the best method for allowing complete visualization of these tumors prior to surgery. Each antibody is given through an IV and binds with a protein that is specific to this type of tumor. The antibodies make their way through the bloodstream and localize in the tumor within three to seven days. After the antibodies localize in the tumor, researchers will be able to see where it is located and visualize even the smallest amount of tumor tissue. This technology will allow surgeons to target the tumor more specifically, so they can remove as little jaw as possible during surgery. 

“Success of this pre-clinical trial would provide a foundation to expand this trial to patients,” Amm said. “Our ultimate goal through our research at UAB is to positively impact patients. UAB has all the resources we need for this study, and I am looking forward to using our research findings to provide better diagnostics and surgical outcomes for this patient population.”