Professor Ahmad Waseem is a Rosetrees Trust-funded researcher investigating the role of the Human Papilloma Viruses (HPVs) in head and neck cancers (HNSCCs). His team are based at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), in the Centre for Oral Immunobiology and Regenerative Medicine, Blizard Institute, Whitechapel. This work originally formed the basis for Dr. Katarzyna Niemiec’s PhD, awarded in 2018 and subsequently Rosetrees Trust extended funding for a postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Deepa Avisetti, in conjunction with Queen Mary Innovation Ltd. To determine the potential patient benefit clinical collaborators involved in the project are Dr. Hannah Cottom (Barts Health NHS Trust), Mr. Zaid Sadiq (University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust), Dr. Selvam Thavaraj (Kings College London), Professor Iain Hutchison (The Facial Surgery Research Foundation – Saving Faces) and Dr. Anand Lalli (QMUL). The team works closely with fellow QMUL head and neck cancer researcher Dr. Teck Teh and current PhD students Dr. Hebah Aldelahwi and Dr. Saima Usman.

Professor Ahmad Waseem and his research team

With Rosetrees Trust funding, the team are developing a novel way to identify the increasing number of HPV-driven HNSCCs, which is vital for improving cancer patient care. Their new biomarker could help identify which tumours have a better prognosis and permit patients to undergo less invasive ‘de-intensified’ treatment strategies with fewer side-effects. The team is currently validating their promising laboratory findings on patients HNSCCs tissues.

Discussing his research Professor Waseem stated “HNSCCs are the 6th most common cancers in the World and with improved awareness, close monitoring and early diagnosis, the incidence of most common cancers such as breast, lung and cervical are coming down. Worryingly the numbers of new HNSCCs are still rising in the UK and the developed World. The reason for this upward trend is most likely because of the involvement of high-risk HPVs. Fortunately these HPV-associated HNSCCs respond better to treatment with longer disease-free survival. Therefore de-intensification of treatment with fewer potential side effects whilst still producing better long-term outcomes is being proposed for HPV associated cancers. To do this we need accurate biomarkers to identify which patients can benefit most from reduced intensity treatments.”

The team have recently published a paper in Scientific Reports in which they characterised a monoclonal antibody and showed its usage in identifying adult epithelial stem cells in normal and cancer tissues. Their second paper published in BMC Cancer, provides the first evidence linking distinct molecular signatures in head and neck cancer with clinical presentations. This approach could aid clinical decision making as molecular signatures are widely used to guide treatment options offered to patients with other forms of cancer.

Written by: Rebecca Downing and Professor Ahmad Waseem