Morita, Shane MD, MS

Pilot Project PI
Emerging Investigator - Cancer
Director, Surgical Oncology Research Program
Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery
John A Burns School of Medicine


Scientific Highlights

RMATRIX Pilot Awardee, Dr. Shane Morita, receives AACR Faculty Scholar award for his study on melanoma in the minority population

Shane Morita with Judith Kaur

Dr. Shane Morita (RIGHT) pictured with Dr. Judith Kaur (LEFT) Medical Director for the Native American Programs of the Mayo Comprehensive Cancer Center during the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, March 31 - April 4, 2012. Dr. Morita was invited to present his study, “Triple Negative (c-KIT, BRAF, NRAS) Acral Lentiginous Melanoma in Hawaii: Molecular Profiling of a Multi-ethnic Population” and was honored with an AACR Faculty Scholar award.

Research Overview

2011-2012 RMATRIX Collaboration Pilot Projects Program Awards

Project Description

Title: Thyroid Cancer and Ethnic Disparity in Hawaii: Profiling the MAPK and MTOR Signaling Pathways
Principal Investigator: Shane Morita, MD, MS, Dept. of Surgery, UH JABSOM
Collaborator: Christopher Lum, MD, Depts. of Medicine & Pathology, UH JABSOM
Collaborator: James Davis, PhD, Research Design & Biostatistics, RMATRIX, UH JABSOM
RMATRIX HEALTH Initiative(s): Cancer
RMATRIX Key Function Support: Research Design & Biostatistics
RMATRIX Funding: $25,000


Thyroid Cancer and Ethnic Disparity in Hawaii: Profiling the MAPK and MTOR Signaling Pathways

Thyroid cancer incidence is rapidly increasing and has doubled over the last decade. More significantly, in women its frequency has risen faster than any other cancer over the same time period. In men, from 1992-2000, the annual percentage change in mortality increased by 2.4%, which was the highest for any type of malignancy. It is noteworthy that thyroid cancer is more common in select geographic regions such as Hawaii, whereby Filipinos comprise the most common group afflicted. Recently, ethnicity in thyroid cancer has been cited as a factor affecting clinical outcome. In a study at a large tertiary medical center in Hawaii, Morita found that Filipinos had a worse survival in comparison to non-Filipinos. In addition to ethnicity, alterations in various pathways have been investigated in thyroid tumorigenesis. BRAF is an oncogene that affects approximately 50% of patients with papillary thyroid carcinoma and is felt to be associated with a worse prognosis. Additionally, eIF4E (eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E) a complex located downstream to mTOR has garnered attention as a significant factor in neoplastic initiation. Due to our unique population in Hawaii, we elected to perform a pilot study by analyzing 10 cases of papillary thyroid carcinoma in a Filipino cohort. Interestingly, we found that 100% of our biospecimens contained a mutation in the BRAF oncogene, while 80% had high expression for eIF4E. This study will be the first of its kind to examine biospecimens of thyroid cancer in Hawaii containing a minority group, exploring for alterations in BRAF and eIF4E. We will strive to: 1) investigate a biological explanation for ethnic disparity in thyroid cancer outcome by measuring the frequency of BRAF somatic mutation in a minority population (Filipino; 2) determine if the mTOR pathway is a potential therapeutic target and a negative prognostic factor in a distinct ethnic population (Filipino) by performing IHC for eIF4E protein expression. It is hypothesized that our project will glean insight into the pathogenesis of thyroid cancer and demonstrate that Filipinos will harbor a higher frequency of BRAF somatic mutation as well as eIF4E protein expression; it may also increase the opportunities for minority groups to participate in future trials.

Selected Publications

  • Kottschade LA, Grotz TE, Dronca RS, Salomao DR, Pulido JS, Wasif N, Jakub JW, Bagaria SP, Kumar R, Kaur JS, Morita SY, Moran SL, Nguyen JT, Nguyen EC, Hand JL, Erickson LA, Brewer JD, Baum CL, Miller RC, Swanson DL, Lowe V, Markovic SN.
    Rare presentations of primary melanoma and special populations: a systematic review.
    Am J Clin Oncol 2014 [more...]

15 January 2019:
Health Disparities Pilot Grant Funding Opportunity


The purpose of this funding opportunity is to provide promising early career investigators with support to capture the key preliminary …

15 January 2019:
Multi-Site Pilot Project (MSPP) Funding Opportunity

Mountain West Clinical Translational Research Infrastructure Network (CTR-IN) – Multi-Site Pilot Project (MSPP) Funding Opportunity


15 January 2019:
Save-the-Date: 2019 Health Disparities Research Institute (HDRI)

Save-the-Date: 2019 Health Disparities Research Institute (HDRI)

August 12-16, 2019

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Dispari…

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Supported by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (U54MD007584), National Institutes of Health.