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Grant boosts head and neck lymphedema research

March 9, 2015 | Kathy Rivers

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) has been awarded a four-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to establish a valid, clinically useful measurement battery for head and neck lymphedema and fibrosis (LEF).

Principal investigator Jie Deng, Ph.D., R.N., developed the proposal because she commonly sees oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer patients who have under-identified late treatment effects that impair function or decrease quality of life.

Jie Deng, PhD, RN

Jie Deng, PhD, RN

The study aims to equip clinicians with validated measures to identify lymphedema and fibrosis-associated symptoms, refer appropriate patients for LEF treatment and monitor the results of therapy. LEF measurement in oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer patients is challenging. There is no validated patient-reported outcome measure available.

Deng, Sheila Ridner, Ph.D., professor of Nursing, and Barbara Murphy, M.D., medical oncologist at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, have shown in previous work the limitations of existing measurements, such as the Patterson Scale, for this patient population. They conclude that while imaging tools hold promise, they have not been systemically evaluated in this patient population.

“Many people are interested in this field of study and this particular line of research has the capacity to empower both patients and clinicians alike with much-needed measurement tools. We are very pleased that it has received such a high level of funding,” said Ann Minnick, Ph.D., R.N., Julia Eleanor Chenault Professor of Nursing and senior associate dean for Research at VUSN.

The specific aims of the grant are to determine reliability and validity of patient-reported outcome measures and  clinician-reported outcome measures and imaging techniques for assessing and identifying LEF in oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer patients across the trajectory of treatment, recovery and survival. Starting this month, the research team will begin recruiting 120 participants for this four-year longitudinal study. Data collection will occur at pre-treatment, end of treatment and every three months up to 12 months post-cancer treatment.

Colleagues on the study include Mary Dietrich, Ph.D., Arthur Fleischer, M.D., and Joseph Aulino, M.D.

Linda Norman, DSN, R.N., Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing and dean of VUSN, said Deng is an exceptionally insightful nurse scientist.

“Jie is passionate about helping solve the many complications associated with lymphedema and fibrosis. She first came to VUSN when she was a nurse manager in China on a study visit with an interest in acute care. From there, her interests have grown and propelled her through her doctoral, and post-doctoral work at the School of Nursing and now this R01 grant,” Norman said.

The research is supported by National Institutes of Health grant 1R01DE024982-01.