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WashU Head & Neck Surgery expands fight against cancer

Washington University School of Medicine
Puram S
Dr. Puram

Basic, clinical and outcomes research are all important avenues to improving our understanding of head and neck cancers and their treatment. The Division of Head & Neck Surgery at Washington University in St. Louis is undergoing an aggressive expansion to tackle the challenges of this devastating disease and provide hope for cancer patients worldwide.

Those efforts include increases in both manpower and research funding, considered the most limiting factors in scientific discovery. For head and neck surgeon and new Division Chief Sid Puram, MD, PhD, these are exciting times.

“We are very fortunate that Washington University and the St. Louis region provide such a desirable environment that we can attract some of the top talent in cancer research and treatment,” said Puram. “Our growing group of clinicians and scientists are poised to really take on this challenge.”

New faculty bring expertise in patient care and research

Several new faculty members have been brought on board to compliment the division’s clinical practice and broaden its research focus. According to Puram, the faculty are comprised of individuals with incredibly diverse backgrounds, training and expertise, allowing a more comprehensive approach to both clinical management and research. The addition of these new faculty to the WashU team further enhances this strong tradition of excellence to provide top notch care and innovative, game-changing research efforts:

Dr. Zolkind

Paul Zolkind, MD
, is a surgeon/scientist who completed his residency training here at WashU and recently returned from fellowship training at Stanford University. His research efforts are to describe the role of NRF2-mediated treatment resistance and investigate therapeutic targeting of NRF2 in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.


Dr. Peng


Guangyong Peng, MD, PhD, started Feb. 1 and brings with him an established lab and highly sought expertise in the field of immunotherapy and suppressive tumor microenvironments.


Alex Harbison, MD, will join the division as assistant professor this summer. Harbison studies why the body’s own immune system is often insufficient in tumor control. In addition to his experience with diverse head and neck oncologic cases, Harbison is a leader in endocrine surgery. He will enhance our clinical portfolio to include transoral “scarless” thyroid surgery, and he is trained in minimally invasive thyroid nodule treatment through radio frequency ablation.

New grant funding

“New research funding in the division has blossomed tremendously,” said Puram. “Although the division has more funding than many other H&N groups, more growth and development through philanthropy and federal funding will allow us pursue the most impactful research that will change patient care and cure this horrible disease.” Recent funding includes:

  • Sid Puram, MD, PhD, has received two new NIH R01 grants to study: 1. Dissecting hybrid epithelial-mesenchymal states in head and neck cancer; and 2. Deciphering epigenetically-regulated pathways to improve targeted therapy for invasion and metastasis in head and neck cancer.
  • Paul Zolkind, MD, was recently awarded a VA Career Development Award for his work, Targeting NRF2 in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
  • Patrik Pipkorn, MD, is principal investigator, and Sid Puram, MD, PhD, co-investigator on a NIH R37 sub-award to study, A Randomized Controlled Trial to Evaluate a Novel Treatment Strategy for Body Image-Related Distress Among Head and Neck Cancer Survivors.
Multidisciplinary effort strengthens patient care

Head and neck cancer treatment at WashU is optimized through monthly review by a multidisciplinary Tumor Review Board. The tumor board involves more than 40 physicians and clinical providers across the service line to ensure all patients receive consistent, top notch care while also offering patients who are eligible a chance to participate in cutting edge clinical trials.

Multidisciplinary clinics also allow patients to be seen simultaneously by head and neck surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist. The full cancer care team is comprised of experts from a dozen different specialties.

*Originally published by the Washington University Department of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.