Our laboratory is primarily interested in immunity and the outcomes from the two extreme immune states – the overexcited/hyperresponsive state contributing to the development of different autoimmune diseases and the insufficient responsiveness necessary to fight off cancer growth.
For autoimmune diseases, our two main research directions are 1) to identify and characterize specific autoimmune target antigens and understand why autoantibodies are induced and continually produced in different disease states and 2) to use human autoantibodies as unique probes to reveal the molecular and cellular functions of fascinating macromolecules and novel subcellular organelles that are autoimmune targets. By understanding the biology of self-antigens in health and disease states, the functional and pathogenic potentials of autoantibodies may be fully appreciated.
For our interest in cancer, the lab has a focus on oral cancer, a major subset of head and neck cancers. The research is also focused in two directions: 1) biomarkers, mainly microRNAs, that are aberrantly expressed in oral cancer; this includes the overexpressed oncogenic miR-21 and the underexpressed miR-375 and miR-494 that behave like tumor suppressor genes. Our findings show that miR-375 is one of the most important in predicting transformation of pre-oral cancer lesions to oral tumors. 2) the development of chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-T) as a strategy to treat oral and other head and neck cancers. We have shown that CD70 is a viable CAR-T candidate for further study using mouse models. It is believed that CAR-T targeting of solid tumors is an important challenge that has great potential towards successful treatment for these cancers.