HERE AT THE HICCC Research Snapshot Director’s Message
IN THE FACE OF A PANDEMIC HICCC Researchers Address COVID-19
Cracking Down on COVID-19
Faces of the Frontline
CONNECTING THE DOTS IN CANCER
Engineering + Cancer
Dentistry + Cancer
Public Health + Cancer
RESEARCHERS ON THE CUTTING EDGE Hitting Pancreatic Cancer Where it Hurts
Commanding Killer T Cells
Election to National Academies
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
A “CURE” for Budding Scientists Newfound Hope with Cell Therapy
Velocity Goes Virtual
Unicorns in the Treatment Rooms
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS CONTACT US
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Herbert Irving
Comprehensive Cancer Center
HERE AT THE HICCC Research Snapshot Director’s Message
IN THE FACE OF A PANDEMIC HICCC Researchers Address COVID-19
Cracking Down on COVID-19
Faces of the Frontline
CONNECTING THE DOTS IN CANCER
Engineering + Cancer
Dentistry + Cancer
Public Health + Cancer
RESEARCHERS ON THE CUTTING EDGE Hitting Pancreatic Cancer Where it Hurts
Commanding Killer T Cells
Election to National Academies
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
A “CURE” for Budding Scientists Newfound Hope with Cell Therapy
Velocity Goes Virtual
Unicorns in the Treatment Rooms
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS CONTACT US
CONNECTING THE DOTS IN CANCER
DentistRy
+ cancer
Profile xray of man jaw for dentist
IN THE FACE OF A PANDEMIC DENTISTRY + CANCER
Image of Dr. Flora Momen-Heravi in her lab at the Dental College
Fatemeh (Flora) Momen-Heravi, DDS, MPH, PhD, MS
Dentistry
+ Cancer
Investigating Cancer Through the Lens of a Dentist
Dentistry
+ Cancer
Investigating Cancer Through the Lens of a Dentist
It might come as a surprise to some that the field of dental medicine has a direct line to cancer research, but clinician-scientist Fatemeh (Flora) Momen-Heravi is connecting the dots between oral care and cancer care.
Dr. Momen-Heravi, a periodontist and an assistant professor in the College of Dental Medicine (CDM) at Columbia University, leads an active lab in cancer and immunology research. Her research aims to understand the interplay between the immune system and tumors to identify molecular targets for head and neck cancer and other solid tumor treatments.
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Fatemeh (Flora) Momen-Heravi, DDS, MPH, PhD, MS
It might come as a surprise to some that the field of dental medicine has a direct line to cancer research, but clinician-scientist Fatemeh (Flora) Momen-Heravi is connecting the dots between oral care and cancer care.
Dr. Momen-Heravi, a periodontist and an assistant professor in the College of Dental Medicine (CDM) at Columbia University, leads an active lab in cancer and immunology research. Her research aims to understand the interplay between the immune system and tumors to identify molecular targets for head and neck cancer and other solid tumor treatments.
“There has been strong evidence linking a high risk of cancer to patients who have oral diseases, such as periodontal disease, so we know the connection is there,” says Dr. Momen-Heravi, “but there is a lot of research that we need to do in order to study those pathways and try and determine what some of those risk factors are for our dental patients with oral disease.”
Dr. Momen-Heravi, a member of the Tumor Biology and Microenvironment research program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC), dedicates time to patient care in CDM’s teaching clinics and teaches didactic courses. In addition to investigating the biology behind head and neck cancer, the Momen-Heravi lab has active collaborations across departments to explore novel therapeutic delivery and investigate the molecular mechanisms of head and neck cancer and its link to other diseases, including diabetes and periodontal disease.
Her lab has a particular interest in the role of small vesicles, called exosomes, and non-coding RNAs in the pathogenesis of cancer and inflammation-related diseases. Dr. Momen-Heravi and collaborators use advanced tools of biochemistry, molecular biology, and synthetic biology to identify and investigate the key players and mechanistic principles underlying these intercellular communications. They also utilize the CRISPR-CAS system to edit the cancer, tumor microenvironment, and activate immune cells in the immune system to be able to engineer tumor associated macrophages to combat cancer.
In a project with fellow HICCC member Akiva Mintz, MD, PhD, division chief of nuclear medicine at Columbia, Dr. Momen-Heravi is developing a genome-editing platform using engineered exosomes to target the KRAS mutation in lung cancer. The work, which was recently awarded a Translational Therapeutics Accelerator grant, supported in partnership by the HICCC and the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, is utilizing exosomes—the body’s natural transport system—as a delivery mechanism for targeted gene editing in the lung to deliver targeted treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common type of lung cancer.
“What we are doing is programming them to deliver a specific drug or message that we want carried out to the tumor or to the tumor microenvironment in a very cell specific way,” she says. “It’s very exciting work.”
Dr. Momen-Heravi is a big proponent of collaborating with colleagues from diverse fields to address problems in cancer. “We’re very much about ‘team science’. We can’t go at these research projects alone.”

“We’re very much about ‘team science’. We can’t go at these research projects alone.”
—Flora Momen-Heravi, DDS

Another joint project with Alison Taylor, PhD, a HICCC member and assistant professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia, is tackling racial disparities in cancer research. The two are working closely to identify the genomic and molecular profile of head and neck cancer in Black and Hispanic patient cohorts from the HICCC catchment area. “When we set out to conduct more research in head and neck cancer and we turned to the Cancer Genome Atlas database of mutations and molecular information of these patients, there was very little known about these patient populations,” says Dr. Momen-Heravi. “This presents a big problem in precision medicine and in our aim to provide personalized therapy to all cancer patients.” This ongoing work, say the researchers, will help them build a more complete picture of cancer in historically underrepresented groups in research and enable them to conduct more thorough investigations on specific molecular drivers of cancer across a racially diverse patient set and develop personalized cancer treatment for those patients. In their initial analysis, they identified molecular changes and mutations in patients with African ancestry that have not yet been reported.
Drs. Momen-Heravi and Taylor plan to work with the HICCC Cancer Population Science research group to expand this work. “This is something that's very close to my heart and this is something that can really change and address a disparity in cancer research,” says Dr. Momen-Heravi. “Knowing the biological basis of cancer in a diverse spectrum of patients, in collaboration with population health, could really move things forward in the field of precision therapy and ultimately benefit the individual patient.”
Dr. Momen-Heravi, a native of Tehran, Iran, moved to Boston after dental college to focus on basic science research at Harvard Medical School. She has a PhD in molecular biology and biotechnology and an MPH in quantitative methods and biostatistics. As a periodontist who specializes in head and neck cancer research, Dr. Momen-Heravi finds that the dovetailing of the two fields not only fits her own professional interests but also provides a wide coffer of complex problems in cancer to address.
“That is the beauty of science—you get interested in one thing and that leads to a question that leads to many more questions,” she says. “My own curiosity often leads me to the research problems I work on.”
© Columbia University Irving Medical Center,
Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center,
New York, NY.
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Fatemeh (Flora) Momen-Heravi, DDS, MPH, PhD, MS
“There has been strong evidence linking a high risk of cancer to patients who have oral diseases, such as periodontal disease, so we know the connection is there,” says Dr. Momen-Heravi, “but there is a lot of research that we need to do in order to study those pathways and try and determine what some of those risk factors are for our dental patients with oral disease.”
Dr. Momen-Heravi, a member of the Tumor Biology and Microenvironment research program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC), dedicates time to patient care in CDM’s teaching clinics and teaches didactic courses. In addition to investigating the biology behind head and neck cancer, the Momen-Heravi lab has active collaborations across departments to explore novel therapeutic delivery and investigate the molecular mechanisms of head and neck cancer and its link to other diseases, including diabetes and periodontal disease.
Her lab has a particular interest in the role of small vesicles, called exosomes, and non-coding RNAs in the pathogenesis of cancer and inflammation-related diseases. Dr. Momen-Heravi and collaborators use advanced tools of biochemistry, molecular biology, and synthetic biology to identify and investigate the key players and mechanistic principles underlying these intercellular communications. They also utilize the CRISPR-CAS system to edit the cancer, tumor microenvironment, and activate immune cells in the immune system to be able to engineer tumor associated macrophages to combat cancer. In a project with fellow HICCC member Akiva Mintz, MD, PhD, division chief of nuclear medicine at Columbia, Dr. Momen-Heravi is developing a genome-editing platform using engineered exosomes to target the KRAS mutation in lung cancer. The work, which was recently awarded a Translational Therapeutics Accelerator grant, supported in partnership by the HICCC and the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, is utilizing exosomes—the body’s natural transport system—as a delivery mechanism for targeted gene editing in the lung to deliver targeted treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common type of lung cancer.
“What we are doing is programming them to deliver a specific drug or message that we want carried out to the tumor or to the tumor microenvironment in a very cell specific way,” she says. “It’s very exciting work.”
Dr. Momen-Heravi is a big proponent of collaborating with colleagues from diverse fields to address problems in cancer. “We’re very much about ‘team science’. We can’t go at these research projects alone.”
Another joint project with Alison Taylor, PhD, a HICCC member and assistant professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia, is tackling racial disparities in cancer research. The two are working closely to identify the genomic and molecular profile of head and neck cancer in Black and Hispanic patient cohorts from the HICCC catchment area.
“When we set out to conduct more research in head and neck cancer and we turned to the Cancer Genome Atlas database of mutations and molecular information of these patients, there was very little known about these patient populations,” says Dr. Momen-Heravi. “This presents a big problem in precision medicine and in our aim to provide personalized therapy to all cancer patients.”
This ongoing work, say the researchers, will help them build a more complete picture of cancer in historically underrepresented groups in research and enable them to conduct more thorough investigations on specific molecular drivers of cancer across a racially diverse patient set and develop personalized cancer treatment for those patients. In their initial analysis, they identified molecular changes and mutations in patients with African ancestry that have not yet been reported.
“We’re very much about ‘team science’. We can’t go at these research projects alone.”
—Flora Momen-Heravi, DDS
Drs. Momen-Heravi and Taylor plan to work with the HICCC Cancer Population Science research group to expand this work. “This is something that's very close to my heart and this is something that can really change and address a disparity in cancer research,” says Dr. Momen-Heravi. “Knowing the biological basis of cancer in a diverse spectrum of patients, in collaboration with population health, could really move things forward in the field of precision therapy and ultimately benefit the individual patient.”

Dr. Momen-Heravi, a native of Tehran, Iran, moved to Boston after dental college to focus on basic science research at Harvard Medical School. She has a PhD in molecular biology and biotechnology and an MPH in quantitative methods and biostatistics. As a periodontist who specializes in head and neck cancer research, Dr. Momen-Heravi finds that the dovetailing of the two fields not only fits her own professional interests but also provides a wide coffer of complex problems in cancer to address.
“That is the beauty of science—you get interested in one thing and that leads to a question that leads to many more questions,” she says. “My own curiosity often leads me to the research problems I work on.”