University of Southern California
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

Tumor Microenvironment Program

The Tumor Microenvironment (TME) Program at USC Norris was created in 2003. The concept behind this program is that the fundamental investigation of the mechanisms that control the interaction between malignant cells and their non-transformed microenvironment should lead to the identification of novel targets for therapeutic intervention and better prognosticators. The overarching goal is to make innovative basic discoveries on the role of the tumor microenvironment, and by interacting with other programs of USC Norris, develop these discoveries into investigator-driven clinical trials. The program has four specific aims: 1) investigate the fundamental mechanisms underlying cancer cell-tumor microenvironment interaction/communication; 2) understand the mechanisms behind tumor immune escape and develop new approaches for cancer immunotherapy; 3) understand the pathogenesis of cancer viruses and their immune escape mechanisms; and 4) translate TME discoveries into clinical trials in collaboration with the Translational and Clinical Sciences (TACS) program.

The program co-leaders, W. Martin Kast, PhD, and Rongfu Wang, PhD, have complementary recognized expertise in cancer virology & cancer immunology and in immunotherapy, innate immune signaling & epigenetic programming, respectively. The program brings together 31 members from 14 departments in four schools at USC with expertise and research interests in inflammation, tumor-stroma interaction, metastasis, angiogenesis, Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), human papillomavirus (HPV) & hepatitis C (HCV)-mediated oncogenesis, and immunotherapy. In the last five years, the TME program has obtained new major grants in the tumor microenvironment (two R35, two P01, one U01 and one P30) and has been the hub where fundamental observations have led to five clinical trials. Research conducted by members of the program has a unique impact on specific populations of the LA County catchment area, particularly children (neuroblastoma and childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)), women of low economic status (HPV-induced cervical cancer), and HIV-infected patients (KSHV).