Primary Research Focus
The Spanos Lab focuses on understanding mechanisms of head and neck squamous cell cancer (HNSCC) development and progression with an emphasis on translating mechanistic knowledge into improved patient care and treatment outcomes.
The Spanos Lab has developed immune competent models of human papillomavirus positive (HPV+), human papillomavirus negative (HPV-), and recurrent/metastatic HNSCC’s in mice. Data generated utilizing these models has demonstrated that the immune system is critical to the clearance of HPV(+) cancers. This work launched the following active areas of research interest/investigation:
- Exploring novel treatment options to cure viral mediated cancers by utilizing immune responses. This project aims to improve our understanding of immunologic tumor clearance so that novel therapies which increase survival and decrease treatment-related morbidity can be developed.
- Furthering our understanding of viral oncogenes (such as HPV E5) and the mechanisms by which they contribute to disease progression. This project will identify new targetable molecules and molecular pathways for treatment intervention.
- Viral mechanisms of immune evasion. In collaboration with Dohun Pyeon PhD (Michigan State University), we have uncovered a novel mechanism by which the homeostatic cytokine CXCL14, which is silenced by HPV oncogenes, leads to antigen specific T-cell mediated tumor clearance. This project seeks to identify unique mechanisms by which the human papilloma virus or HPV+ cancers suppress host immunity to evade immune recognition and clearance.
The lab utilizes preclinical data to generate novel clinical trial designs and subsequently analyzes patient samples to generate a new experimental hypothesis. All projects in the laboratory have a high degree of translational potential through implementation into clinical trials.
About the Spanos Lab
Lab Projects and News
Cisplatin Mediated Immune Modulation of HPV Positive Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck squamous cell cancer (HNSCC) represents 5% of all cancers in the United States and the incidence of a subset of HNSCC caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) is increasing at epidemic levels. Squamous cell cancer in the head and neck provides a fascinating dichotomy because approximately one-third of the tumors are caused by HPV and about two-thirds are a result of random mutations. Even though HPV(+) HNSCC presents at a more advanced stage than HPV(-) tumors, the survival is markedly better (30% to 40% at five years) in patients with HPV(+) HNSCC. Conventional treatment of these cancers requires chemotherapy (usually cisplatin) and radiation. Although HPV+ HNSCC patients have an improved response to treatment, the overall five-year survival for HNSCC is only 50% and the short and long-term side effects from treatment are significant. Modulation of current effective treatments and new, less toxic treatments are needed to improve the long-term cures as well as limit the side effects in a progressively younger cancer population that may live with these side effects for 30 to 40 years post-treatment.
Meet the Spanos Lab
Paul Colbert, MS
Senior Research Specialist
Paul utilizes a variety of techniques to study treatment response and immune-mediated clearance of head and neck cancers.
Paul obtained his Bachelor of Science in biology from Black Hills State University and Master of Science in ecology and evolutionary biology from Iowa State University.
Elizabeth Balstad, BA
As a research specialist, Elizabeth Balstad studies the effects of CRISPR genome editing on head and neck cancer cells and how chemotherapy and radiation affect these cells’ costimulatory molecules and their ligands. Elizabeth also researches an aggressive type of skin cancer in the context of vaccination and immunotherapy.
Elizabeth received a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota in 2014.
Colleen Hannum, BA
Colleen Hannum is a research specialist of the Spanos lab and works on HPV+ head and neck squamous cell cancer. She is investigating the contributions of E5 in the context of E6E7 utilizing both in vitro and in vivo murine models. The study aims to improve our understanding of disease progression and treatment resistance in HPV+HNSCC.
Hannum earned a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry from Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota in 2015.
As a supervisor in both the Spanos and Powell Labs, Dan Vermeer assists in preparing grant applications, co-authors articles for publication, writes technical summaries, prepares regulatory documents and helps to coordinate personnel and budgets for project completion. He also designs and conducts experiments, and analyzes and interprets data.
Dan earned his BA in biology from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.