Hangauer Research Group

The Hangauer lab at UC San Diego is interested in non-genetic mechanisms of cancer drug resistance. We study cancer "persister" cells, a recently identified subpopulation of cancer cells found within melanoma, breast, lung, ovarian and other cancers. Persister cells reversibly enter a quiescent, pro-survival cell state and avoid drug-induced cell death through poorly understood mechanisms. Importantly, these cells can form a reservoir from which drug-resistant tumors may emerge. The distinguishing feature of persister cell biology is their reversible drug resistance demonstrated by their resensitization to drug treatment following a period of drug-free regrowth:

This reversibility indicates that persister cell drug resistance is not based on irreversible genetic mutations. This is in contrast to the widely appreciate role in acquired drug resistance for tumor cells with pre-existing or acquired drug resistance-conferring somatic mutations which are selected for during treatment. The functional relationship between these resistant mutant cells and persister cells during acquired drug resistance is unknown, but we hypothesize that therapeutic eradication of persister cells will increase the durability of treatment responses.

Our current research is focused on discovering and understanding persister cell gene vulnerabilities which are novel therapeutic targets (e.g. GPX4), determining the precise roles persister cells play in acquired drug resistance, and exploring the fundamental similarities between persister cells which survive distinct treatment modalities ranging from targeted therapies to immunotherapy. Ultimately, we seek to translate our findings into therapeutic approaches that will benefit cancer patients and we have active interactions with the pharmaceutical industry toward this goal.

Join the lab!

We are located within the Department of Dermatology in the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Our lab is affiliated with Moores Cancer Center, the UCSD Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Graduate Program, and the Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI). We are a fast growing lab actively recruiting talented scientists from all backgrounds. If you are interested in joining the lab, please contact Prof. Hangauer at mhangauer@ucsd.edu and include your CV.