Postdoctoral scholar Matt Hangauer is interested in nonmutational drug resistance in cancer. This underappreciated field concerns how cancer cells of the same tumor, and with identical DNA, exhibit drastic differences in drug response. In particular, Hangauer has focused his research on the small percentage of cells within a tumor cell population, called persister cells, that reversibly enter a dormant state and resist high doses of cytotoxic drugs.
After a delay, persister cells eventually regrow, thus representing a dangerous pool of residual cancer cells that can contribute to tumor recurrence. Persister cells have been identified to lurk within numerous cancer types and remarkably survive a wide range of therapies. Therefore, a therapeutic strategy to eradicate persister cells may have far reaching clinical benefit.
In search of a therapeutic strategy to selectively target persister cells, Hangauer has taken a functional genomics approach encompassing gene expression analysis and loss of function screens. Hangauer has identified multiple genes specifically required for persister cell survival that are not required for normal tissues. He has found that persister cells surprisingly harbor extreme dependencies on particular genes for survival. This may reflect the unique, dormant cell state that persister cells occupy as well as the extreme stress persister cells are under as they survive cancer cell-selective cytotoxic drug exposure. These genes are being further explored for their potential as therapeutic targets and are the focus of Hangauer’s future research at the HDFCCC.
“At the HDFCCC, I’m surrounded by world-class scientists and clinicians tackling cancer from across the full spectrum of translational research, experimental basic science, bioinformatics and technology development. This diversity of expertise within the tight-knit HDFCCC community results in constant cross-fertilization. My research has directly benefited in many ways including fruitful collaborations, immediate access to transformative technologies and biological tools developed at UCSF, and expert advice from leading clinicians and basic scientists. The HDFCCC is truly one of the finest cancer research institutions in the world and a great place to work as a postdoctoral scholar.”