Riley Mullins

MSTP in PhD Training

Program: Immunology

Current advisor: Sid Puram, MD, PhD

Undergraduate university: Ohio State University-Columbus, 2019

Enrollment year: 2019

Research summary
The crosstalk between immune and cancer cells involved in tumor metastasis

I work in Dr. Sid Puram’s lab studying the interactions between cancer and immune cells in head and neck cancer. The immune system should be able to recognize a cancerous cell and appropriately eliminate it. However, cancer cells can send signals to immune cells that make the immune response against a tumor dysfunctional. Cancer immunotherapy is designed to restore immune cell function against a tumor, leading to tumor elimination. While cancer immunotherapy treatments are successful in some patients with solid cancers, most patients do not significantly benefit from them. In my project, I focus on the crosstalk between immune cells and a population of malignant cells with a propensity to metastasize. I study this crosstalk by implementing single cell sequencing of primary head and neck cancer patient samples to characterize gene expression in individual cancer and immune cells within a tumor. Based on the patterns of gene expression in patients’ tumors, I investigate the molecular mediators of the immune-cancer crosstalk that may contribute to tumor growth, metastasis, and immune cell dysfunction.

Graduate publications
Mullins RDZ, Pal A, Barrett TF, Heft Neal ME, Puram SV. 2022 Epithelial-Mesenchymal Plasticity in Tumor Immune Evasion. Cancer Res, 82(13):2329-43

Qi Z, Liu Y, Mints M, Mullins R, Sample R, Law T, Barrett T, Mazul AL, Jackson RS, Kang SY, Pipkorn P, Parikh AS, Tirosh I, Dougherty J, Puram SV. 2021 Single-Cell Deconvolution of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Cancers (Basel), 13(612):1230. PMCID: PMC7999850