Paul Ahlquist, PhD
Studying how viruses cause certain cancers and developing new approaches to improve future treatments for these cancers.
Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) cause essentially all cervical cancers, a growing fraction of head and neck cancers, and other cancers such as esophageal cancers. Together these add up to ~5% of all human cancers, making HPV one of the leading single causes of cancer. For cervical cancer, which is still a major cause of cancer death worldwide, a critical co-factor with HPV in tumor development and maintenance is estrogen signaling via estrogen receptor a. Dr. Ahlquiest and collaborators in Dr. Paul Lambert’s lab (UW) and the NCI have recently shown in mouse models and with large collections of human samples that in cervical cancer estrogen does not signal directly to the tumor – as in breast cancer – but rather indirectly from surrounding non-cancerous stromal cells to the tumor. Dr. Ahlquist’s latest work further reveals signaling in the opposite direction, with HPV oncogenes in tumor cells inducing striking changes in surrounding stromal cells. His ongoing work continues to unravel this crucial network of signaling between cervical cancer cells and their stromal cell microenvironment, and how it sustains tumor development and growth. These studies are providing essential insights into the interactions by which tumors arise and progress, early detection and prognosis of pre-cancerous lesions, and new approaches to disrupt cancer development and persistence.