Chrystal Paulos leads studies of immunotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer patients

December 2021

Chrystal Paulos, PhD, director of translational research for cutaneous malignancies at Winship Cancer Institute, led two new studies that could change the way oncologists treat oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma (OCSCC), the most common form of head and neck cancer. Her research partners included collaborators from Winship, MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, and UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

According to the findings, pre-surgery immunotherapy may be safe and effective in treating some patients with OCSCC. The results were featured in two papers published in Cell Reports Medicine:

Hannah Knochelmann, a graduate student in Dr. Paulos' lab, is first author on one of the papers and second author on the other.

The research teams tested the efficacy of treating patients prior to surgery with the immune checkpoint inhibitor anti-PD-1, which has transformed the way patients with advanced malignancies are treated. In the process, they identified potential molecular biomarkers in the blood and tumors of patients that show how likely they would be to respond to immunotherapy.

These early clinical findings warrant larger studies that should conform treatment and evaluation standards to facilitate validation of these molecular biomarkers.