Our Research

We are well funded by multiple NIH/NCI grants.  Here are our recent studies.

The human Oral microbiome and risk of orodigestive track cancer development

In a large population-based study, we made the novel discovery that oral carriage of commensal beta-proteobacteria is predictive of future head and neck (JAMA Oncology2018) and esophageal cancer development (Cancer Research, 2017).  We also demonstrated that several oral periodontal pathogenic bacteria are related to increased risk of pancreas cancer development (Gut, 2018).  Significantly, we further showed that some of these cancer-associated oral microbiota play a key role in metabolizing carcinogens in the oral cavity, and that their abundance is significantly altered in heavy smokers and alcohol drinkers (ISME J 2016Microbiome, 2018).  Our studies were the first to establish the link of oral microbiota with orodigestive cancer development. Much of our work has involved novel study of the human oral microbiome; We are thrilled to summarize these highly exciting findings as an invited contributor to the 2021 US Surgeon’s General Report on Oral Health. In a recent competitive renewal of NCI grants, we are currently testing oral mycobiome (fungi) and virom (virus) and orodigestive cancers.

NIH 2R01CA159036, Hayes/Ahn PIs – In a recent competitive renewal of NCI R01, we are currently testing oral mycobiome (fungi) and orodigestive cancers

NIH U01CA250186, Ahn PI – Oral and pancreas microbiomes and risk of pancreas cancer

The human microbiome and racial disparities of orodigestive track (ODT) cancer development and treatment responses.

The human microbiome is influence by race and socioeconomic factors. We hypothesize that the human microbiome contributes to ODT cancer disparities through biologic interaction of the microbiome with the host in ODT oncogenesis.  We recently received the NCI P20 NYU Cancer Health Disparities – Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) center grant.  In the SPORE, we are studying two projects: Project 1 will focus on the relationship of the oral microbiome to racial and socioeconomic disparities in the incidence of head and neck cancer, by means of a prospective case-control study nested within 3 large highly diverse US cohorts. Project 2 will focus on the gut microbiome and Black and White racial disparities in tumor recurrence in colon cancer patients who received adjuvant chemotherapy. The NYU CHD SPORE will provide new knowledge on specific human microbiota that contribute to ODT cancer disparities and will advance our understanding of the functional consequences of these microbiota in ODT oncogenesis.

This study is funded by NCI P20CA252728 – NYU Cancer Health Disparities Specialized Program of Research Excellence

The human gut microbiome, blood immune markers, and melanoma immunotherapy response

More recently, we expanded our research to consider the role of the microbiome in cancer treatment response.  I demonstrated that the gut microbiome is a potential predictor for disease progression and immune-related toxicity in melanoma patients who receive immunotherapy (Genome Medicine, 2019). In the NYU Melanoma SPORE, Dr. Ahn is Project Leader responsible for identifying gut microbiota that predicts melanoma clinical outcomes in patients randomized to two different immunotherapy regimens. The purpose is to develop microbial and other predictive biomarkers for risk prediction and decision-making for a treatment choice for this disease.

This study is funded by NCI P50 CA225450 (NYU Melanoma SPORE)

FAMiLI Cohort, an ongoing community based prospective cohort

The NYU Food and Microbiome Longitudinal Investigation (FAMiLI) is an ongoing community based prospective cohort study. The cohort is unique for its prospective collection of oral wash and stool samples for microbiome studies in diverse racial and ethnic groups, including Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Whites. As of Dec., 2020, we have recruited >9000 participants. This study uniquely includes ~40% first generation immigrants. This highly unique resource provides critical population data for health disparity research, including recent seminal findings in minorities on the human microbiome and diet acculturation, quality of life, and obesity.  We plan to continue recruitment, to include 14,000 participants, and to continue prospective follow-up during that phase (and thereafter) for cancer and other disease outcomes.  The NYU FAMiLI is a unique urban platform with integrated community participation to address priority knowledge gaps regarding the environment, cancer risk and its disparities, in a multi-ethnic cohort, including large numbers of Asian Americans.  This research will provide the scientific basis to transform cancer prevention to include personalized and societal-level interventions.