Live Cell Imaging of Head and Neck Cancer Stemness and Quiescence

Alexander T. Pearson, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor of Medicine | University of Chicago

Rooting Out How Cancer Stem Cells Avoid Therapy

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a common yet underfunded malignancy, which unfortunately suffers from a high rate of recurrence after standard-of-care treatment including chemotherapy. The mechanisms by which this therapeutic resistance develops are not fully understood but therapy-evading cancer stem cells (CSC) and quiescent (non-dividing) cells are likely to play a role.

We have created a system whereby cells engineered with fluorescent-light gene reporters of either CSC or quiescent state can be tracked using a combination of live-cell microscope imaging and newly developed software. We will use this system to study how CSCs and quiescent HNSCC cells develop resistance to chemotherapy in real time, and if we can overcome this resistance using combined administration of chemotherapy with the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab.

A more complete understanding of how head and neck cancer cells develop resistance will lead to better treatment options and the potential to cure more patients with this devastating disease.