What are your current research interests? What is a project you are currently working on?
I am currently leading a translational research effort investigating personalized RNA nanoparticle vaccines in murine head and neck cancer models in collaboration with Drs. Duane Mitchell and Elias Sayour in the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program. Using this platform, we are exploring ways to enhance existing immunotherapies, which have shown significant promise in treating head and neck cancer. My ultimate goal is to lead a clinical trial using personalized RNA nanoparticle vaccines in patients with treatment refractory head and neck cancer.
My clinical projects focus on cancer pain and survivorship. We are studying risk factors for chronic opioid use after treatment for head and neck cancer and investigating ways to help our patients through treatments using opioid alternatives. In collaboration with Chennguo (Chris) Xing, Ph.D., in the UF College of Pharmacy, we will soon begin a clinical trial exploring alternative medicine approaches to improve mood and decrease tobacco use in head and neck cancer survivors.
Why did you decide to focus on cancer?
I have always been fascinated with tumor biology, which is what initially drew me to focus on cancer. However, being able to guide my patients through the often difficult and complicated treatments for head and neck cancer is incredibly rewarding. Helping my patients through both the good, as well as the bad times, allows me to develop a very close relationship with them. I also love the multidisciplinary nature of cancer treatment. Working closely with pathologists, radiation and medical oncologists, speech and language pathologists and radiologists to determine the best and most effective treatment options for our cancer patients is one of the most interesting parts of my job.
What do you want to achieve with your work and/or in your career?
My ultimate goal is to bring research from “the bench to the bedside” and lead clinical trials in head and neck cancer based on discoveries in my lab. I also want to continue to bring established clinical trials to cancer patients here at UF that can provide leading-edge treatment options to our patients. My goal is to continue to inspire and train future head and neck surgeons and surgical oncologists through mentoring residents and medical students.