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
Chao Lu, PhD

Eukaryotic cells develop sophisticated mechanisms to package and access our genetic information. Recent studies have shown that proteins involved in genome regulation are frequently altered in human cancers. These findings agree with laboratory observations that cancer cells often display abnormal nuclear architecture, and raise the questions of whether, and how, aberrant chromatin organization facilitates tumor development. Collectively, Dr. Lu's previous work has identified the molecular mechanisms by which high-frequency mutations in chromatin regulators reprogram genome-wide chemical modifications of DNA and histones. In addition, his work demonstrated that chromatin mutations are pro-oncogenic through the blockade of cellular differentiation. These studies provide compelling evidence for a causal role of chromatin dysregulation in oncogenesis. He proposes a novel pathway of cancer initiation through accumulation of hyper-proliferative and differentiation-refractory tissue progenitor cells driven by epigenome abnormality. His goal is to apply these mechanistic insights to advance current molecular diagnosis, classification and treatment of human cancers.

Project title: "Chromatin dysregulation as driver of oncogenesis"
Institution: Columbia University
Named Award: Giannandrea Family Breakthrough Scientist
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: Head and Neck Cancer, Sarcoma
Research Area: Chromatin Biology
Mark G. Shrime, MD, MPH, PhD

Mark is a cancer surgeon and health economist. He is examining one of the hidden barriers to surgical oncology access in head and neck cancer—that of non-medical costs. For 81 million people every year, surgery leads to catastrophic impoverishment, but only 40% of that is due to the direct medical costs of surgery. The rest is due to the hidden costs of transportation, food, and lodging necessary to get surgery. He proposes to design and optimize a cash transfer for patients with head and neck tumors in a low-income West African country. The effects of this cash transfer on surgical oncology utilization will then be tested in a randomized, controlled trial. These findings could apply globally to improve access to cancer care. 

Project title: "Cash transfers for cancer surgery in West Africa: their health and economic consequences"
Institution: Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): John G. Meara, MD, DMD, MBA
Cancer Type: Head and Neck Cancer
Research Area: Surgical Oncology
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