Grants - V Scholar Grants - Missouri - 2019

Sidharth Puram, M.D., Ph.D.

Head and neck tumors are composed of cells that are not all the same, but instead have different functions, much like bees in a hive. While some cells act like drone bees that are primarily responsible for expanding and growing the colony (or in this case, tumor), others are responsible for directing and orchestrating the tumor like a queen bee. Still other cells mimic worker bees who travel outside the hive and are responsible for the spreading the tumor to new locations. We are interested in these worker bees of head and neck cancers and understanding what triggers them to exit the hive. In particular, we are trying to identify the specific genes that serve as markers of the worker bees, in order to determine if they are present in tumors and whether they can help to predict when a cancer may spread. We are also trying to understand the specific genes that allow these worker bees to perform their function. Much like a specific wing shape or other adaptations worker bees have in nature, we are curious about whether these cells have specific cellular machinery they use to spread beyond the tumor. Together, these studies could help us develop new ways of identifying patients at risk for their cancer spreading as well as new treatments to prevent the spread of cancer all together.