Dr. Ferris's laboratory is focused on understanding basic immunological mechanisms of the T lymphocyte response to cancer, for the development of novel immunotherapeutic approaches to head and neck cancers (HNC). Tumor vaccine clinical trials are currently underway and new strategies are in development. We are particularly interested in the immune response to human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated head and neck cancer, which appears to be a distinct subgroup of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. Monitoring the successful immune effects of individuals treated with immunotherapy is a major effort, in order to develop improved generations of vaccine approaches. We are also studying tumor induced immune evasion, such as defective antigen processing and presentation to subvert cytotoxic T lymphocyte recognition of tumors.
Another area of study involves the promotion of tumor metastasis by a family of molecules called chemokines. We are finding important roles for chemokine receptors in cancer metastasis. These chemokines are small, secreted molecules that mediate homing and recruitment of immune cells in response to inflammation, through a family of G-protein linked receptors. Overall, these studies are designed to identify the chemokines relevant to progression of HNC and to provide initial data on their possible clinical utility as components of future vaccination therapies for HNC. In addition, our group is interested in developing immune/inflammatory biomarkers present in the bloodstream for HNC detection, and monitoring in populations at risk for cancer recurrence and/or second primary tumors.