Research

The Department of Otolaryngology / Head & Neck Surgery has a strong and lasting commitment to improving patient's lives by discovering new ways to treat and prevent diseases affecting our patients. Research within the Department ranges from outcomes-oriented research, to translational "bench to bedside" projects, to basic science discoveries.

The Head and Neck Oncology research program, under the leadership of Cherie-Ann Nathan, MD, FACS at LSUHSC’s Feist-Weiller Cancer Center, is committed to discovering novel treatments for head/neck and skin cancers. Department researchers were recently awarded an R01 grant from the National Institute of Health to study the role of Fibroblast-Growth Factor Receptor-2 (FGFR2) in the prevention and treatment of squamous cell skin carcinoma, which affects ~200,000 people annually in the United States. Another exciting project in the Head and Neck Oncology program focuses on the role of novel targeted chemotherapy applied as a topical skin cream, to treat skin cancers. Early investigations are promising and may lead to clinical trials in the near future.

The National Cancer Institute has funded translational research in our lab since 2000.

Our work on molecular analysis of surgical margins is recognized nationally and internationally, having pioneered multi-institutional clinical trials using mTOR inhibitors in HNSCC patients with both Wyeth and Novartis. 

HPV- negative head and neck squamous cell cancer (HNSCC) patients harboring p53 (tumor suppressor) mutations have the worst clinical outcomes with significantly higher rates of recurrence. A subset of p53 mutants acquire new biological properties referred to as gain-of-function (GOF) that contributes to cancer progression, treatment resistance, invasion, and metastasis. Moreover, the association between certain p53 mutants (termed as high-risk mutants) and worse oncologic outcomes were reported recently. These high-risk p53 mutants also represents the GOF p53 mutants that counteract autophagy (type of cell death) through stimulation of the AKT/mTOR pathway. Therefore, cancers bearing GOF p53 mutations are potentially susceptible to mTOR inhibition. Dr. Nathan’s lab has exciting results from its own investigator initiated multi-institutional randomized Phase II clinical trial with everolimus (an mTOR inhibitor) as adjuvant therapy for minimal residual disease. The study demonstrated a significant increased two year progression free survival in a subset of patients with HPV-negative/p53 mutant HNSCC on everolimus. Dr.Nathan’s lab is correctly working on deciphering the underlying mechanisms for AKT/mTOR-mediated inhibition for mutant p53 in Head and Neck cancers.

We also have expertise in exploring the use of bioactive food compounds such as curcumin (found in the spice Turmeric) to arrest the progression from pre-cancer to cancer. We received NIH funding for chemoprevention of cancer with curcumin and have a patent for a curcumin chewing gum.

Complementing Dr. Nathan's research group, the Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer translational research group (also a part of the Feist-Weiller Cancer Center), led by Paul Weinberger MD FACS, is developing a novel therapeutic target for Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer. This disease is arguably the most aggressive of all human cancers, with >80% of patients dying within 1 year of diagnosis even with the most aggressive treatments available today. Essentially, no currently approved chemotherapy or radiation treatment is effective on this cancer, but Dr. Weinberger's group has uncovered what may be an "Achilles heel" of this cancer that exploits the cancer's ability to rapidly repair any DNA damage thrown at it. Because normal healthy cells don't do this as fast, they appear to tolerate the treatment even at 10 times the dose with no ill effects, while the anaplastic cancer cells rapidly destroy themselves. With a little more effort, they hope to begin testing the treatment in human patients within the next two years.

Another exciting project in the ATC research group focuses on the use of Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning, to assist in accurately measuring protein, DNA and RNA in cancer tissues. Current methods relying on manual estimation are inherently error-prone and subject to wide variations due to operator-dependent factors. Dr. Weinberger’s group is exploring ways of harnessing machine learning to do some of these tasks faster, and more accurately, than can be done by hand. This may eventually lead to better ways to diagnose cancers and decide on personalized treatment approaches based on analysis of the patient’s tumor.

The Team

The Research Division of the Department of Otolaryngology / Head & Neck Surgery includes Physician-Scientists, Nurse Practitioners, Basic Scientists, Laboratory Managers, and Support Personnel – all working together to discover new treatments and cures for our patients with these devastating diseases.

HEAD & NECK ONCOLOGY RESEARCH GROUP

Cherie-Ann Nathan MD, FACS
Professor and Chair

Clinical Research

Tara Moore- Medlin, BS
Lab Manager

Xiaohua Ma, MD
Clinical Research Associate

Ellen Lewis, FNP-BC

Daphanie Williams, RN

Basis Science Research

Alok Khandelwal, PhD
Assistant Professor of Research

Maksudul Alam, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Gauri Shishodia, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Xiaohua Rong
Research Technician

ANAPLASTIC THYROID CANCER RESEARCH GROUP

Paul Weinberger, MD, FACS
Associate Professor

Qinqin Xu, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Ryan Mackay, BS
MD-Ph.D. Student (P.Weinberger, Mentor)

Prerana Ramesh
Undergraduate Research Assistant (LSUS Student)
 

Otolaryngology Research