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Ellie G. Maghami, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Research performed at: City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center
Specialty/Research Area: Otolaryngology
Award Year: 2017, 2014

Career Summary:  Dr. Maghami is Associate Professor and Division Chief for Head and Neck Surgery at City of Hope.  She received her BS in Biochemistry at University of Illinois; her M.D. at Washington University; her Surgery and otolaryngology Residency at UCLA; and her Fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Dr. Maghami received the Paul H. Ward Resident Research Award; MSKCC Chairman's Award for Excellence in basic science research; and 2004 YIA award for developing RNAi-based retroviral gene therapy against SCCRO. Dr. Maghami serves on The NCCN Head and Neck Cancer Committee and American Head and Neck Society Council. She has authored or coauthored more than three dozen research abstracts and presentations along with more than twenty articles in peer-reviewed publications. In 2014, Dr. Maghami was chosen to receive The Norman and Sadie Lee Foundation Endowed Professorship in Head and Neck Cancers.

Dr. Maghami spearheaded the IRB-approved program of Transoral Surgery (TOS) at City of Hope, and is listed by Castle Connelly and US News as one of Southern California’s Top Doctors. Dr. Maghami is collaborating with Dr. Christine Brown, Dr. Saul Priceman, Erminia Massarelli, and Tommy Tong on her latest project involving the use of Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy to treat advanced head and neck cancers.  

Year STOP CANCER Award received: 2017 STOP CANCER Member Seed Grant, 2014 Richard Keith McIntyre Memorial Seed Grant

Description of Research: Head and Neck Cancers are the 6th most common cancers worldwide, predominantly triggered by the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and alcohol. Recently, there has been a growing epidemic of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)-associated Head and Neck cancers (HPVHNC) across the western hemisphere from unprotected sex. Current research is heavily concentrated on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying treatment resistance and disease progression in both categories of Head and Neck squamous Cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Advanced head and neck cancers are generally hard to treat with conventional therapies, which have potential associated toxicity. Therefore, new approaches to therapy are necessary. Identification of unique or overexpressed antigens or receptors on cancer cells may provide an avenue for targeted therapies.

A third of HNSCC have moderate-to-high expression of interleukin-13 receptor α chain variant 2 (IL13Rα2). Highest levels of expression are reported in higher stages of disease suggesting a role of IL13R in cancer progression. Since IL13Rα2 is overexpressed in HNSCC but not in normal tissues, it may be a good target for antigen-directed immune therapies. The current project will evaluate 50 tumors from stage 3-4 HNSCC for IL13Rα2 expression levels and correlate this data with disease-specific survival. The overall goal of the project is to explore a novel immune therapy against HNSCC utilizing CAR T cells that recognize IL13Rα2-expressing cells. 

Early Results: Scientists at City of Hope have demonstrated safety and transient anti-tumor responses in two Phase I clinical trials evaluating intracranial transfer of IL13Rα2-specific CAR T cells in patients with malignant glioma. We intend to explore CAR-T cells as a potential useful strategy in HNSCC using preclinical models already established in our laboratories, with the long-term objective of translating this therapy to the clinic. 

STOP CANCER is committed to funding the most promising and innovative scientists in their early research of all forms of cancer prevention, treatment, cures and subsequent clinical applications. STOP CANCER works primarily with local National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers and other qualified institutions in the United States to carry out its mission.

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