USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

Tumor Microenvironment Program

The Tumor Microenvironment Program (TME) fosters fundamental scientific efforts in the area of host-tumor cell interactions. The overarching mission of the TME Program is to discover basic mechanisms that control the interactions between cancer cells and their microenvironment, leading to the identification of molecules or pathways that can be targeted for therapeutic interventions.

The program has three specific aims:

      • Investigate the fundamental mechanisms underlying cancer cell, immune cell and stroma cell interactions & communications.
      • Investigate the pathogenesis of cancer-inducing viruses and their immune escape mechanisms.
      • Investigate the mechanisms behind tumor immune escape and develop new approaches for cancer immunotherapy.

The program co-leaders, W. Martin Kast, PhD, and Rongfu Wang, PhD, have complementary recognized expertise in cancer virology & cancer immunology and in cancer immunotherapy, innate immune signaling & immune-cell epigenetics, respectively. The program brings together 36 members from 12 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 cancer immunotherapy. In the last five years, basic science discoveries by TME members’ research has led to four investigator-initiated clinical trials in the TACS and CCR programs. Research by the members has a unique impact on specific populations of the LA County catchment area, particularly children (neuroblastoma and childhood ALL), Asians (liver cancer), and Hispanic women (HPV-induced cervical cancer). Also noteworthy is TME-led cancer education of a very diverse group of students ranging from elementary school to post graduate school, in collaboration with CRTEC.