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Welcome to Head and Neck Cancer Research Laboratory

Under the Direction of Assistant Professor, Osamu Tetsu, MD, PhD, the researchers in the UCSF Head and Neck Cancer Laboratory are interested in broad areas of normal and cancer cells of the Head and Neck. Our ultimate goal is to understand the mechanisms of oncogenesis in order to find therapeutic options for the neoplasms of the Head and Neck.

Dr. Osamu Tetsu has benefited from extensive training in cancer and molecular biology after a residency in general surgery. Dr Tetsu received his MD and PhD in Japan and moved to the United States in 1997 for postdoctoral training with Dr. Frank McCormick at UCSF.

In 2007, Dr Tetsu joined the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery to expand the scope of our basic science research programs and to further integrate head and neck cancer. Goals for this program include the following:

  • Focused concentration on salivary gland cancers, particularly adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC)
  • Exploration of the biological behavior of molecular basis of ACC
  • Development of targeting therapy for ACC and other head and neck cancers
  • Development of a head and neck tumor bank
  • Creation of a head and neck cancer database
  • Establishment and study of thyroid cancer cell lines

With expertise in cancer biology, and growth control, as well as cell signaling pathways, Dr. Tetsu has investigated the genes responsible for epithelial tumor initiation, cancer development and maintenance. He has also worked with developmental cancer therapeutics.  Dr. Tetsu’s research focus is to understand the molecular mechanism of head and neck cancer, especially salivary gland tumors, and to identify novel therapeutic approaches to the treatment of various types of neoplasm in the head and neck.

Dr. Tetsu is working on ambitious studies of adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), a malignant neoplasm that arises within the major and minor salivary glands of the head and neck.  ACC is the second most common malignant neoplasm of the salivary glands. Most patients survive more than 5 years after surgery and postoperative radiation therapy. The 10 year survival rate, however, drops to 40%, due to locoregional recurrences and distant metastases. Improving long-term survival in ACC requires the development of more effective systemic therapies based on a better understanding of the biologic behavior of ACC.

Dr. Tetsu suspects that ACC is a disease of genetic instability. As a result, a number of genes might be deregulated in ACC by recurrent genomic aberrations and/or somatic mutation in critical genes. Among these molecules, Dr. Tetsu is examining roles of receptor tyrosine kinase signaling pathways in ACC. Being able to determine the exact cancer mechanism will allow for progress towards improving treatment of ACC.

Given the significant scope and importance of this research, Dr. Tetsu will be leading the expansion of our head and neck cancer basic science research program in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.  His examination of key pathways central to radiosensitivity and chemosensitivity in head and neck and other cancers will provide clarity on the varying levels of patient sensitivity to therapeutic radiation and chemotherapy.  We eagerly anticipate future discoveries and their benefit to the lives of cancer patients.