The immune response to head and neck cancer stem cells.
My laboratory’s overarching goal is to understand how NK cells, in the broader context of the host’s immune system, protect against developing and metastasizing tumor cells, specifically, cancer stem cells, and to understand why this system fails in patients with cancer. Significant heterogeneity of immune potency between individuals with these malignancies has been observed but not explained. We are particularly interested in the questions of how and why the immune system can respond to and control malignant cells in some contexts but not in others. Clarity of the underlying basis for these differences would potentially explain why certain individuals are more susceptible to cancer, lead to better screening strategies, and ultimately provide much needed insight into how the host immune system can be manipulated to control cancer.
The developmental programs of NK cells.
Another major focus of our laboratory is to decipher the developmental programs of NK cells. In many patients afflicted with cancer, the NK cells from those individuals do not respond to typical NK cell stimuli. A more complete understanding of NK cell development may ultimately reveal potential ways by which malignancies render NK cells dysfunctional. We are particularly interested in understanding the transcriptional regulation of NK cell development and differentiation from stem and progenitor cells. The goal is to further our understanding of the molecular basis underlying NK cell development and maturation, which will in turn provide much needed insight into disorders associated with NK cell defects. In addition, it will potentially provide an understanding of how the development and differentiation of these special lymphocytes can be modulated for therapeutic purposes.