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Head and Neck Research Team

Theodors Teknos, MD - Professor and Chair

Dr. Teknos and Dr. Pan discovered that PKCe promotes an aggressive, metastatic phenotype in head and neck cancer. Their lab also designed a novel cancer cell-homing, PKCe-inhibitory peptide (HN1-PKCe) as a therapeutic strategy for head and neck cancer, work that culminated in an NIH grant activated during 2008.  Teknos, Pan and Baiocchi, MD, PhD, also designed a phase I/II clinical trial with scientific correlates that received the top score and funding through the National Comprehensive Cancer Network; this novel HDAC inhibitor trial for patients with oropharyngeal cancer began accrual in 2009.


James Rocco, MD, PhD 

My laboratory’s early work on mechanisms that couple cell death to radiation and chemotherapy treatment in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) led to an NIH R01 supported project, which characterized the p53 family member DNp63 as a major regulator of cell death after cisplatin treatment. This work led us to identify the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl2 as critical mediator of cell survival after loss of p63 (Cancer Cell, 2006) and, using clinical specimens from the MEEI tumor bank that I directed, to validate Bcl2 as a biomarker of cisplatin treatment resistance in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) patients treated with standard cisplatin-based therapy (Clinical Cancer Research, 2009). Following up on this work, we discovered that Bcl2 expression and human papillomavirus (HPV) status are independent prognostic biomarkers (Clinical Cancer Research, 2010). With Bcl2 inhibitors currently under early clinical trial evaluation, my translational efforts and active clinical trial experience has positioned me to pursue future trials with specific Bcl2 inhibitors in head and neck cancer patients. 

My laboratory also has made a significant contribution to understanding intra-tumor heterogeneity, which is increasingly understood to limit cancer therapy, in particular targeted therapy. It has long been thought that a tumor can have multiple clones of cancer cells providing reservoirs of resistance to therapy. There had been, however, no generally useful measure of such intra-tumor heterogeneity. We developed a measure based on next-generation exome sequencing, called mutant-allele tumor heterogeneity (MATH; Oral Oncology, 2012). High heterogeneity by this measure was closely related to shorter overall survival in an initial HNSCC training set (Cancer, 2013). We then applied this measure to HNSCC patients studied in The Cancer Genome Atlas project. We thus demonstrated, for the first time in a large multi-institutional study in any type of cancer, that high intra-tumor is related to worse clinical outcome (PLOS Medicine, 2015). As this measure is based solely on sequencing results, it is readily extended to other types of cancer and has recently been used to document racial differences in intra-tumor heterogeneity of breast cancer (Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2015). A patent application on MATH is pending   PCT/US2013/063044).

I am interested in training graduate, medical students and post-doctoral fellows in the field of head and neck molecular oncology, specifically in the areas of treatment-related cell death mechanisms, intra-tumor heterogeneity and single-cell lineage analysis as it relates to head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cancer stem cells and tumorigenesis.   The laboratory environment has a balanced mix of basic and translational science expertise that offers many unique research opportunities for the interested student or post-doctoral fellow to excel.   Ongoing active collaborations with the Dana Farber Cancer Center for BH3 profiling, and the BROAD institute for NGS and analysis further enrich the scientific environment for any prospective student.     



Pawan Kumar, PhD - Research Assistant Professor

Dr. Kumar’s laboratory is focused on the understanding the molecular mechanisms that promote chemo/radioresistance in order to identify novel potential targets for the treatment of head and neck cancer patients. His lab is particularly interested in delineating the role of IL-6 in promoting the aggressive and metastatic phenotype in head and neck cancer. In addition, Dr. Kumar’s laboratory is investigating the role of tumor-associated endothelial cells in tumor progression.


Quintin Pan, PhD – Professor, Vice Chair of Research, Director of Head and Neck Oncology Research Program, and Co-Leader of the OSUCCC Translational Therapeutics Program

Dr. Pan’s research group is focused on novel target identification and drug development for head and neck cancer.  His laboratory is interested in identifying "druggable" proteins/targets, to understand how these proteins function in the context of head and neck cancer development and progression, and to design selective inhibitors against these proteins as novel anti-cancer therapeutics.


Jas C. Lang, PhD-Associate Professor

The focus of Dr. Lang's present studies is an understanding of the molecular changes responsible for the development of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC). To achieve this aim he is generating new HNSCC cell lines from primary tumors. The rationale is that: 1) Gene changes identified in the cell lines can then be validated by analysis of the original primary tumors from which the cell lines are derived. 2) The cell lines can be used for functional studies including analysis of drug response. In order to ensure that the cell lines function as true surrogates he is culturing the cells in a 3-dimensional matrix in addition to conventional monolayer culture. Dr. Lang can also use the cell lines as a source to identify and study cancer stem cells that are present in the tumors.



Other Research Members

Edmund Mroz, PhD, Research Associate Professor

Bhavna Kumar, MS, Program Director

Gaila Sunkle, M.Ed, Program Manager


Jharna Datta, PhD, Research Associate 2-B/H

Bin Li PhD, Research Associate 2-B/H

Longzhu Piao, PhD, Research Associate 2-B/H

Xueqian Wang PhD, Research Associate 2-B/H

Xiujie Xie, PhD, Research Associate 2-B/H

Arti Yadav, MS, Research Assistant 2-B/H


Anita Janssen, BS, Research Associate 1-B/H

Satavisha Roy, BS, Research Associate 1-B/H

Jason Andersen, BS, Research Assistant 1-B/H