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
Pragya Goel, PhD

Dr. Goel is investigating structural and functional aspects of dopamine transmission in the brain, a key neuromodulator for motor and cognitive processes. Dopamine receptors have also been implicated in a variety of cancers, and recent evidence suggests that brain cancer (glioma) cells can form synaptic connections with neurons that drive tumor progression. To better understand the molecular organization that supports dopamine signaling, Dr. Goel will use super-resolution microscopy, modern genetic approaches, and functional measurements to assess the spatial organization of major dopamine receptors and determine the interplay between dopamine release and reception. This research aims to better understand the basic mechanisms of dopamine signaling, which may ultimately enable the design of novel therapies. 

Project title: "Signaling structure for neuromodulatory coding in the vertebrate striatum"
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Named Award: Dale F. and Betty Ann Frey Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Pascal Kaeser, MD
Cancer Type: Head and Neck Cancer
Research Area: Neuroscience
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
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