CC Oncology

The Oncology group is engaged in clinical and experimental research on head and neck tumors.

Main research topics

Head and neck tumors are the seventh most common cause of cancer death worldwide. The worldwide incidence is approximately 600,000 new cases per year, with an increasing incidence of HPV-associated tumors. In recent years, immunotherapy has become established for head and neck tumors in addition to surgery, radio- and chemotherapy. However, only a small percentage of patients respond to immunotherapy. Moreover, recurrences are frequent, especially in advanced stages of the disease, possibly due to the interaction of tumor cells with the adjacent cells of the stroma. The exact knowledge of the interaction between tumor cells, immune cells and neighboring cells is therefore necessary for the development of new therapeutic approaches. There is increasing evidence that platelets play an important role in this process. For example, platelets can transfer "normal" MHC class 1 molecules to tumor cells and thus prevent the cytotoxicity of NK cells. Circulating tumor cells are protected by platelets from the effects of tumor necrosis factor α. Therefore, a special focus of the research group is to decipher the role of platelets in the genesis of head and neck tumors.

Recent findings show that the immune defense against tumors is significantly influenced by the microbiome and that e.g. the response to checkpoint inhibitor therapies is associated with the composition of the microbiome. A more precise knowledge of the relationship between changes in the microbiome and, for example, the immune response against the tumor could lead to the generation of new therapeutic approaches. Therefore, another focus of the research group is to decipher the role of the microbiome in head and neck tumors.

In contrast to other tumor entities, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) does not have molecular markers for stratification or therapy prediction in the clinic besides HPV status. The research of further diagnostic markers is of great relevance. Therefore, an important focus of the research group is the identification of biomarkers (e.g. EBV in sinu-nasal carcinoma, NOTCH1 in HNSCC) and the importance of liquid biopsy in HNSCC. This should help to better predict disease progression and to derive more individualized therapeutic approaches.