Immune Profiling of Head and Neck cancers
A frequent cancer form
Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas are the 9th most frequent cancers worldwide and high mortality rate, morbidity and impaired quality of life caused by the disease and its treatment warrant new treatment principles. The overall incidence of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma is decreasing, however the incidence of OPC, often associated with high-risk HPV16, is increasing, especially in younger adults.
Immunotherapy has emerged as a highly relevant treatment strategy, and selection of appropriate target antigens and functions require a better understanding of the head and neck cancer ecosystem. Successful immunotherapy of cancer relies on the ability of DCs to present antigens and activate appropriate T cell responses.
Today, the immune-infiltrating myeloid cells in head and neck cancers are poorly characterized and their activation state, maturity or suppressive function are largely unknown. Thus, this project area is focused on discovery and validation of biomarkers and drug targets, and functional assessment of the role of myeloid subsets in the tumour microenvironment.
It involves development of state-of-the art methods, protocols and technologies which are used for molecular profiling of tumour infiltrating immune cells, and studies of inter-patient heterogeneity. Patients with HPV+ OPC have a better treatment prognosis and overall survival compared to HPV- patients.
In this project, biopsies are analysed at viral type-level, and viral load per cell is determined using qPCR. Frequencies of tumour-associated immune cell types are identified using multicolour flow cytometry, biomarkers panels and immunohistochemistry. We employ single cell sorting of myeloid cells and RNA sequencing to describe the landscape of infiltrating antigen-presenting cells in these head and neck cancer types.
Selected binders towards DC-selective antigens, targeting subpopulations, are further evaluated as therapeutic candidates. Thus, this project aims to identify novel biomarkers which can be used as prognostic markers, linked to viral infections, and novel immunotherapeutic approaches.