Faculty Profile

Dr. Thomas J. Belbin, Ph.D.

Thomas J. Belbin, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Pathology

Areas of Research: Analysis of DNA methylation in the genomes of head and neck cancer cells. These biomarkers can be used to identify sequences frequently methylated in tumor cells, and those that correlate with tumor phenotypes.

Professional Interests


Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) constitute an anatomically heterogenous group of neoplasms that share in common a causal association with tobacco and alcohol exposure.  The clinical course of these neoplasms is difficult to predict based on established prognostic clinicopathological criteria.  Unfortunately, the 5-year survival rate has improved only marginally over the past decade; as a result, it is estimated that over 45,000 cases and over 11,000 deaths will occur each year in the United States from HNSCC.  To date, there are few molecular markers that can be reliably used in either early detection or as indicators of prognosis.

Evidence has now established that aberrant DNA methylation and chromatin remodeling associated with promoters, or first exons of genes, is one mechanism frequently associated with the transcriptional silencing of critical genes in HNSCC and other cancers.  One goal of our lab is the genome-wide analysis of aberrant DNA methylation events in head and neck tumor genomes.  These “epigenetic signatures” can be used to identify CpG island sequences frequently hypermethylated in HNSCC, and to characterize previously indistinguishable subtypes of this disease.  The long-term goal of our research is to identify genetic and epigenetic signatures associated with successful treatment and patient outcome in this disease, as well as those signatures that indicate that drug treatment will not work. This should lead to more unique gene discoveries and, in the future, new targets for anti-tumor drugs.



Selected Publications

Belbin TJ, Singh,B, Barber I, Socci N, Wenig B, Smith R, Prystowsky M, Childs G.  Molecular classification of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma using cDNA microarrays (2002).  Cancer Res 62:1184-1190.

Wreesman VB, Sieczka E, Socci ND, Hezel M, Belbin TJ, Childs G, Patel SG, Patel KN, Tallini G, Prystowsky MB, Shaha AR, Kraus D, Shah JP, Rao PH, Ghossein R, Singh B. Genome-wide profiling of papillary thyroid cancer identifies MUC1 as an independent prognostic marker (2004).  Cancer Res 64:3780-3789. 

Childs G, Fazzari M, Kung G, Kawachi N, Brandwein-Gensler M, McLemore M, Chen Q, Burk RD, Smith RV, Prystowsky MB, Belbin TJ, Schlecht NF (2009). Low-level expression of microRNAs let-7d and miR-205 are prognostic markers of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.  Am J Pathol. 174(3):736-745.

Lleras RA, Adrien LR, Smith RV, Sarta C, Schlecht NF, Harris TM, Childs G, Prystowsky MB, Belbin TJ (2011).  Hypermethylation of a cluster of Krüppel-type zinc finger protein genes on chromosome 19q13 in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma.  Am. J. Pathol. 178(5): 1965-1974.

Harris T, Jimenez L, Kawachi N, Fan JB, Chen J, Belbin T, Ramnauth A, Loudig O, Keller CE, Smith R, Prystowsky MB, Schlecht NF, Segall JE, Childs G (2012). Low-level expression of miR-375 correlates with poor outcome and metastasis while altering the invasive properties of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. Am J Pathol. 180(3):917-928.

Belbin TJ, Lleras RA, Smith RV, Schlecht NF, Lim J, Harris TM, Childs G, Prystowsky MB. “Capturing and deciphering the molecular signatures of head and neck cancer.”  In Cancer Genomics - Molecular classification, prognosis and response prediction (Ulrich Pfeffer, Ed.).  Springer Press, 2013.

Qian X, Hulit J, Suyama K, Eugenin EA, Belbin TJ, Loudig O, Smirnova T, Zhou ZN, Segall J, Locker J, Phillips GR, Norton L, Hazan RB (2013). p21CIP1 mediates reciprocal switching between proliferation and invasion during metastasis. Oncogene 32(18): 2292-2303.

Lleras RA, Smith RV, Adrien LR, Schlecht NF, Burk RD, Harris TM, Childs G, Prystowsky MB, Belbin TJ (2013).  Unique DNA Methylation Loci Distinguish Anatomic Site and HPV Status in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma.  Clin. Cancer Res. 19(19): 5444-5455.

Salazar CR, Smith RV, Garg MK, Haigentz M Jr, Schiff BA, Kawachi N, Anayannis N, Belbin TJ, Prystowsky MB, Burk RD, Schlecht NF (2014). Human papillomavirus-associated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma survival: a comparison by tumor site and initial treatment. Head Neck Pathol. 2014 Mar;8(1):77-87.

Salazar CR, Anayannis N, Smith RV, Wang Y, Haigentz M Jr, Garg M, Schiff BA, Kawachi N, Elman J, Belbin TJ, Prystowsky MB, Burk RD, Schlecht NF (2014).  Combined P16 and human papillomavirus testing predicts head and neck cancer survival.  Int. J. Cancer  Apr 5. doi: 10.1002/ijc.28876. [Epub ahead of print].





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Research Information