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
Craig Welbon, BS
Craig Welbon joined the Spanos Lab in 2021. As a lab supervisor, he oversees the day-to-day management and operations of the laboratory, including coordinating personnel, managing budgets and maintaining laboratory compliance. He also designs and conducts in vitro and in vivo experiments exploring cytokine and chemokine immune dysregulation in HPV+ head and neck cancers.
Craig has diverse experience in immunology research, starting at the NIH’s Laboratory of Immunoregulation (LIR) in Bethesda, Maryland, and continuing at the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in Lausanne, Switzerland. He later worked in the product development section of the American Red Cross Holland Laboratory studying human dendritic cells. He next went to work at South Dakota State University in the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (ADRDL).
Craig has been involved in research and diagnostics for nearly 30 years.
Payal Ghosh, MS
Payal Ghosh is a research specialist in the Spanos Lab and works on HPV+ head and neck squamous cell cancer research. She is investigating cytokine-mediated immune responses to cancer using HPV+ murine tumor models in both in vitro and in vivo systems. Currently, Payal is using CSF2 CRISPR knockout tumors in mice undergoing cisplatin and radiation therapy to determine the synergistic effects that tumor suppression of CSF2 and standard care treatment has on eliminating and blocking the reoccurrence of HPV+ head and neck cancer. Her work will help to understand the role played by these cytokines in the context of chemo and radiation therapies currently used for head and neck cancers.
Payal obtained her Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science from India and her Master of Science in pharmaceutical nanotechnology from the University of South Florida.