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Shi-Long Lu, MD, PhD

Associate Professor

Academic Office:

12700 E. 19th Avenue
Mail Stop #8606
Aurora, CO 80045

Phone: 303-724-3074
Lab: 303-724-5340
Fax: 303-724-4553

Head and Neck Cancer Laboratory​​

Summary of the Lab's work:

The prognosis of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) patients remains poor, with a 5-year survival rate of less than 50%. The poor prognosis of this disease is primarily due to tumor invasion to adjacent organs, local-regional recurrence, and distant metastasis. Treatment intervening tumor invasion, recurrence and metastasis, are thus crucial for controlling HNSCC progression. However, the molecular and cellular processes of HNSCC progression are poorly understood. 

Our laboratory applies a multidisciplinary approach to analyze the molecular basis of HNSCC invasion, recurrence, and metastasis, combining modern molecular biology and genomics tools with animal models and advanced in vivo imaging technologies. We welcome application for postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate research, as well as resident and medical student research rotation in our laboratory in the following subjects: 

  1. Role of PI3K/PTEN/AKT pathway in HNSCC progression.  
  2. Molecular characterization of migrating cancer progenitor cells.  
  3. Development of biomarkers from fine needle aspirates for surveillance of HNSCC patients.

Role of PI3K/PTEN/AKT pathway in HNSCC progression.
The phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/PTEN/AKT pathway regulates cell growth, survival, motility, and metabolism. In vitro studies indicate that deregulation of this pathway is important in HNSCC tumorigenesis, as has been observed in several other cancers. However, the in vivo role of PI3K/PTEN/AKT pathway deregulation in HNSCC remains unknown. Using our head and neck specific genetically engineered mouse model (GEMM), this laboratory developed inducible head and neck specific transgenic PIK3CA and AKT mice, and inducible head and neck specific knockout PTEN mice. 

Studies on each molecule revealed both the linear connection of PI3K/PTEN/AKT in the canonical pathway, as well as non-overlapping functions of each molecule transduced through distinct signaling. Dissecting this critical yet complicated signaling pathway is undergoing in this laboratory by cross-species comparison between the unique mouse models developed in this laboratory and human HNSCC clinical tissues. 

These studies will reveal the roles of PIK3CA, PTEN, and AKT during each stage and site involving in head and neck tumorigenesis, and identify novel molecular markers for HNSCC prognosis and therapeutics.

Molecular characterization of migrating cancer progenitor cells
The cancer stem cells hypothesis has been extensively tested in many types of solid tumors including HNSCC. However, the role of these cells in HNSCC progression, particularly in metastasis has not been well defined. 

Given the heterogynous population in tumors, it is reasonable to speculate there is a distinct population of cancer cells responsible for tumor metastasis (termed here as migrating cancer progenitor cells). PI3K pathway has been shown to maintain stem-like cell population in multiple cancers. 

One unique feature of the HNSCC tumors from our PI3K GEMM models is epithelial-mesenchymal transition, which may generate multiple, distinct cellular population contributing to intratumoral heterogeneity and enrich the population of tentative migrating cancer progenitor cells. 

Currently, our laboratory is trying to identify and characterize this unique cell subpopulation, which will not only help us for better understanding of the biology of HNSCC recurrence and metastasis, but also develop better therapeutical strategies. 

Development of biomarkers from fine needle aspirates (FNA) for surveillance of HNSCC patients.
Lymph node metastasis is the single most important clinical prognostic factor in HNSCC. In addition, it is the most reliable predictor of treatment outcomes for HNSCC patients, and determines the strategies of clinical management for HNSCC patients.

 Therefore, accurate assessment of the metastatic lymph nodes of HNSCC patients is of paramount importance. FNA biopsy of lymph node metastases is an excellent resource for this purpose. FNA possesses the advantages of easy accessibility, and minimal invasiveness, which is ideal for monitoring HNSCC patients during their disease process. However, the sensitivity of traditional cytology methods of FNA is less than satisfactory. 

Additionally, cytology alone can rarely provide prognostic information, as well as guidance for therapeutic decisions. Thus, taking advantage of our unique HNSCC GEMMs, this laboratory is currently developing novel biomarkers with high sensitivity and specificity by cross-species comparison using state-of-art cancer genetics/epigenetics technologies. The goal is to develop biomarkers from FNA as surrogates to predict prognosis of HNSCC patients and to make therapeutic decision.

Shi-Long Lu, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor

Fang Zhang, MD, MS
Professional Research Assistant

John Song, MD
Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology

Xiao-Jing Wang
Professor, Department of Pathology

Stephen Malkoski
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine

  • Joint appointments with Departments of Dermatology, and Pathology
  • American Association of Cancer Research (AACR)
  • Society of Investigative Dermatology (SID)​