Solving the head and neck cancer puzzle

07 May 2024

Dr. Jazmina Gonzalez Cruz, alongside her dedicated team of researchers at the University of Queensland, continues to make significant strides toward unravelling the mysteries surrounding head and neck cancer.

Thanks to the generous support from PA Research Foundation supporters, Dr. Gonzalez Cruz embarked on a pioneering project delving into the efficacy of immunotherapies and personalized medicine strategies for addressing the emergence of oropharyngeal cancers.

 Leveraging cutting-edge technologies capable of directly detecting gene and protein expression within tissue samples, the team aims to decipher the unique molecular makeup of each patient's disease, paving the way for tailored treatment approaches.

 As noted by immunologist Dr. Cruz, the ongoing project is yielding compelling and promising findings, extending beyond throat cancers to encompass skin carcinomas, as we know a major concern in Australia, especially Queensland.

 “We published recently in Nature Precision Oncology, a case of an Oropharyngeal cancer patient who was treated with standard of care and failed. He then started a treatment round of immunotherapy, but unfortunately, he failed again,” she said.

 “So, in collaboration with people here at the PA Hospital, they reached out to us when they were at a loss for options regarding this patient's treatment. We utilized advanced technologies to analyze the patient's samples at various stages, ultimately identifying a range of potential drug targets directly from the patient's tissue.

 “The results from the tests also supported why the patient was potentially not responding to the given immunotherapy, because we couldn't see the targets of the drugs in the patient's sample. But , fortunately, we did see eight different targets for which we have drugs already approved that could have been selected for this patient if they had that information beforehand.”

Dr Gonzalez Cruz believes the detailed information provided through spatial-omic technology is quickly changing the landscape and future of cancer treatment.

“We’re collaborating with the PA Hospital’s Professor Rahul Ladwa in looking at cutaneous carcinomas in the neck. The novelty is that the patients underwent immunotherapy treatment without receiving any standard care treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation, beforehand,” she said.



“What we're talking about here is a completely untouched immune system. The beauty of that is that we've seen a greater response than when we give this drug as a last resource when the patient has already been through possibly months even years of debilitating treatments. This ongoing research is currently underway and hopefully will be published soon so everyone can have access to it.

“I believe the future of immunotherapy lies in giving it earlier to patients. We’re already seeing some of our patients avoiding surgery and radiation just by giving them immunotherapy earlier.

 “I do foresee that in not a long time, five years or less, we're going to start seeing that the standard care might be pushed in favour of the immunotherapy being brought forward.

Dr Gonzalez Cruz said people who donate to charities like the PA Foundation play a vital role in pushing the future of cancer treatment forward through spatial omics.

“It is expensive now. Every new tool is expensive until everybody uses it. So, the more people use it, the more people are aware that this technology exists and the applicability in the clinic, the cheaper they’ll get.

“It's like when everybody was starting out doing whole exome sequencing or genomic sequencing and it was extremely expensive and only a few labs in the world would do it. Now every hospital can potentially do genomic sequencing and look out for those mutations. Hopefully, spatial omics will be the same shortly.”

You can support pioneering research by Dr Gonzalez Cruz by making the PA your place to give here.