Warram receives NIH R37 MERIT Award

The National Cancer Institute awarded Jason Warram, Ph.D., $2.7 million for his research project using disease-targeted fluorescent antibodies to better guide surgeons and pathologists during oncologic surgery.
Written by: Lindsey Evans
Media contact: Adam Pope

warram.2Jason Warram, Ph.D.
(Photography: Steve Wood)
Jason Warram, Ph.D., associate professor with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Otolaryngology, has received a seven-year NIH R37 MERIT Award from the National Cancer Institute for his research project, “Reduction of Tumor-Positive Margins in Oncologic Surgery.”

The multi-institutional, multidisciplinary research project will utilize disease-targeted fluorescent antibodies to guide the surgeon and pathologist toward areas that are more likely to be tumor-positive during oncologic surgery.

In head and neck cancer, tumor-positive margins occur in up to 30 percent of cases, directly correlating with local-regional relapse and poor survival.

The high rate of positive margins has not changed in 20 years.

Given that the majority of patients with head and neck cancer receive surgery as part of their definitive management, an incremental gain would dramatically impact survival outcomes. By utilizing targeted fluorescent agents for surgery, known as fluorescence-guided surgery, this approach will illuminate head and neck tumor-positive margins during surgery to reduce the rates of recurrence and improve overall surgical outcomes.

The clinical trials and overall research strategy are designed to identify the specific elements of fluorescence-guided surgery that will provide the greatest clinical benefit to patients.

The National Cancer Institute funded the grant under the Investigator-Initiated Early Phase Clinical Trials for Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis program. The total funding for the first five years is $2.7 million. The MERIT Award allows an additional two years after the initial five-year award period.

Researchers submitting an R01 that receives a fundable score are considered for the award. The MERIT Award is a prestigious award designed to provide stable, long-term funding support to outstanding, experienced investigators.

Warram holds secondary appointments in the Department of Surgery, Radiology and Biomedical Engineering and is an associate scientist in the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Co-investigators are William Carroll, M.D., professor and chair, Hari Jeyarajan, M.D., assistant professor, Benjamin Greene, M.D., associate professor, and Kirk Withrow, M.D., associate professor, UAB Department of Otolaryngology; Eben Rosenthal, M.D., professor, Department of Otolaryngology, Stanford University; Lisle Nabell, M.D., professor, UAB Department of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology; Anthony Morlandt, M.D., D.D.S., associate professor, UAB Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery; and Todd Stevens, M.D., associate professor, Department of Pathology, Anatomic Pathology.