A collaboration between the University of Central Florida and Florida Hospital has awarded its first $20,000 seed grant to a team that will study the fundamentals of cough in patients with head and neck cancer.

Olusegun Ilegbusi, a professor in UCF’s College of Engineering & Computer Science and Dr. Nikhil Rao, a radiation oncologist at Florida Hospital teamed up through the Central Florida Health Research website  to pursue the funding for their joint project. Ilegbusi collaborates on this project with Bari Hoffman Ruddy, associate professor at UCF’s College of Health and Public Affairs.

Patients with head and neck cancer frequently experience problems with cough and swallow function; these problems can result from the disease itself, or as an unwanted side effect of the treatment for the disease. Cough and swallow are important behaviors for maintaining healthy lungs and when impaired may increase the likelihood of developing a potentially deadly or debilitating lung infection, Ilegbusi said.

He and his students specialize in developing three-dimensional models of human organs to study tumor activity.  Last spring they debuted an artificial lung that mimics human breathing activity to aid effective targeting of radiation treatment for lung tumors.

The team plans to build a similar model to study the dynamics of cough flow in head and neck cancer patients and will examine the effectiveness of treatment options, including exercises, to strengthen the respiratory muscles in those patients.

“The project will provide us an opportunity to better understand the causes of this inability to effectively cough in these patients and we have every hope of finding an effective treatment for them,” Ilegbusi said.

Central Florida Health Research has announced a second call for proposals which will be due March 1.

The partnership was established a year ago to help match research strengths and needs between scientists at UCF and health professionals at Florida Hospital.

UCF researchers can fill out a profile on the Central Florida Health Research site and search through potential collaborators in a wide variety of specialty areas. The funding is provided by UCF’s Office of Research & Commercialization and Florida Hospital.

For more information contact Dr. Debra Reinhart in the Office of Research & Commercialization at Debra.Reinhart@ucf.edu