Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted viral infection that causes over 5% of all cancers worldwide and in the United States is responsible for 25-30% of all head and neck (i.e. throat, tonsil, and tongue) cancers and nearly all cervical cancers. Our lab focuses on how HPV influences how cancers respond to radiation and chemotherapy. In this project, we will study cancer initiating cells. These cells are thought to be responsible for the development of cancer and are often resistant to standard therapies.
Patients with HPV-caused head and neck cancer often present with advanced disease (Stage III or IV). Despite this, HPV associated cancers respond well to radiation with or without chemotherapy. We believe that HPV may help explain this dichotomy (advanced cancer but good prognosis). We will study the role of HPV-positive cancer initiating cells in invasion, metastasis, and the response to therapy. We will provide evidence for how HPV modulates cancer initiating cells and point to ways in which we can personalize therapy for these patients to improve their quality of life, minimize toxicities while maintaining cure rates, and decrease the costs of care for these patients.