Head and Neck Cancer

Current Projects
Katherine E. Gadek, PhD

Dr. Gadek focuses on the Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) signaling pathway, which can be altered in rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) patients. RMS is the most common soft-tissue sarcoma in children, but survival rates and treatments for high-risk patients have not improved in three decades. Dr. Gadek will examine the timing of tumor development and the role of Shh signaling in tumor location and formation. This may lead to diagnostic markers and tools for identifying high-risk patients with altered Sonic Hedgehog signaling, which could improve treatment options and outcomes.

Project title: "Defining endothelial progenitor cell pliancy in rhabdomyosarcoma" 
Institution: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Award Program: Sohn Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Mark Hatley, MD, PhD, and Stacey Ogden, PhD
Cancer Type: Head and Neck Cancer, Pediatric, Sarcoma
Research Area: Developmental Biology
Yvonne M. Mowery, MD, PhD

Head and neck cancers usually begin in the squamous cells that line the mucosal surfaces inside the mouth, nose and throat. Even with aggressive treatment including surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, these tumors often recur with poor prognosis. Dr. Mowery will use patient samples and mouse models to investigate why these cancers are resistant to radiation treatment and to test new therapeutic approaches to improve outcomes for patients. She will also conduct a Phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of using a combination of a radiation sensitizer (a drug that makes cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation therapy), radiation therapy and immunotherapy to treat patients with recurrent head and neck cancer.

Project title: "Evaluating and targeting pathways of treatment resistance in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma"
Institution: Duke University
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): David G. Kirsch, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Head and Neck Cancer
Research Area: Animal Models/Mouse Models
Joshua A. Weinstein, PhD

The human adaptive immune system continuously surveils for proteins and protein fragments that do not belong. Mutated protein fragments in tumor cells, called neoantigens, form a basis by which the adaptive immune system discriminates between cancer and healthy cells. Delivered therapeutically, neoantigens specific to a tumor can similarly serve as anti-tumor vaccines. Dr. Weinstein has developed a new imaging modality that simultaneously identifies new genetic mutations and physically maps interactions between the cells that possess them. He is working to apply this technology to the identification of tumor-specific therapeutic neoantigens most capable of eliciting immune response.

Project title: "A novel DNA microscopy platform for rapid discovery of immunogenic tumor neoantigens"
Institution: The University of Chicago
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: Head and Neck Cancer, All Cancers
Research Area: Tumor Immunology
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