The Faden Lab examines how acquired genomic alterations and viral infection effect head and neck cancer initiation, growth and response to treatment. The overarching goal of our research is to translate findings from the laboratory to clinical advancements that address the most pressing problems faced by head and neck cancer patients.

The lab’s efforts are centered on three overlapping arenas:

Understanding mutation acquisition and host-viral interactions in human papilloma virus (HPV)-associated head and neck cancer.

A subset of head and neck cancers are caused by viral infection, including HPV. HPV-associated cancers behave differently than non-virally-associated head and neck cancers and are increasing in prevalence, surpassing cervical cancer as the most common HPV-associated malignancy in the U.S. Despite this, little is known regarding how HPV-associated head and neck cancers go from a cell that has become infected with HPV to a full-fledged cancer. Our research aims to elucidate this process, including how HPV leads to host mutations and how features specific to the virus dictate the behavior of the tumor. Understanding this process is vital for improved diagnostics and treatment decision-making.

Defining how the genomic and immunogenomic landscape of head and neck cancers affects tumor behavior

In recent years there has been a rapid accumulation of information regarding the genomic landscape of head and neck cancer. We now know that head and neck cancers possess a complex array of genomic and transcriptomic alterations and largely lack recurrent targetable mutations. In part because of this diversity, we have not yet seen the marked increase in knowledge translate to measurable improvements in patient care. Our research is focused on understanding how these various acquired alterations impact tumor behavior and treatment response. To do so, we are studying unique and tightly curated head and neck cancer cohorts to help distinguish meaningful signatures from noise.

Interrogating head and neck cancer treatment response and disease status using liquid biopsy

The field of liquid biopsy is rapidly evolving as a method for understanding both clinical and basic cancer biology questions. Liquid biopsy affords the benefits of a minimally invasive approach to cancer detection and annotation, through molecular blood-based signatures. The Faden Lab, in collaboration with investigators at MGH Cancer Center, studies how circulating tumor cells, cell free DNA and extracellular vesicles can predict how a cancer is responding to treatments like immunotherapy and surgery.