Steven Powell, MD, Lab


Primary Research Focus

Dr. Powell Bio

Steven Powell, MD, is a practicing medical oncologist and a physician scientist. His laboratory focuses on integrating novel immunotherapies into the management of head and neck cancer and concurrently developing predictive biomarkers. His primary goal is to comprehend how to best incorporate immunotherapy into the management of locally advanced and metastatic head and neck cancer.

Dr. Powell’s research has led to novel strategies to use immune checkpoint inhibitors in combination with chemotherapy and radiation to augment anti-tumor response. Additionally, his work has evaluated biomarkers of immune response. As a clinician, Dr. Powell seeks to bring what he finds in the lab to clinical trials, to directly impact patient care.

Sam Milanovich
  • Associate scientist in the Cancer Biology Research Center
  • Assistant Professor at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, Department of Surgery
  • Bachelor’s of Science and Engineering in Biomedical Engineering from Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)
  • Doctor of Medicine from the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, Vermillion, SD
  • Residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN)
  • Fellowship in Hematology and Oncology at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN)

Behind the research

Translational Research Laoratory
The host immune response is critical for the clearance of head and neck cancer during chemoradiotherapy (CRT). Dr. Powell’s translational research laboratory focuses on evaluation of human biospecimens to evaluate targets for novel therapies to augment this response during CRT. Additionally, his lab evaluates immune biomarkers in this setting. We are currently evaluating the peripheral blood immunocyte response during standard CRT and during investigational immunotherapy combination CRT clinical studies. Patient immune phenotype and functional response during treatment is assessed to determine peripheral blood immune response. Additionally, we are investigating tumor and tumor microenvironment factors that may impact the host immune response. In collaboration with the Spanos and Vermeer labs, Dr. Powell’s lab utilizes an immune competent mouse model that harbors HPV+ tumors to explore novel immuno-oncology agents in combination with CRT. The primary goal of his lab is to develop a biomarker driven approach to include novel therapeutics into the management of advanced head and neck cancer.

Clinical Research
Dr. Powell is a principal investigator for head and neck cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, and genomic oncology trials at Sanford Health. His investigator-initiated research has an emphasis on integrating novel immunotherapies into the management of head and neck cancers. Access current active clinical trials here.

Contact Christie Ellison or Janet Wernisch for more information on Dr. Powell’s investigator-initiated studies.

Resources Positions Available
Access Steven Powell's publications here.

Join a dedicated team of researchers and help shape the future of cancer treatments. See the following open positions:

Powell Lab in the Press

May 19, 2017: Medical Study Helps Brookings Man Beat Cancer

September 16, 2016: NIH Selects Sanford for grant to move cancer research to clinical trials

July 26, 2016: Genetic profiling increases cancer treatment option, Sanford Study Finds

July 19, 2016: Sanford physician assists in developing new treatment to prevent nausea, vomiting caused by chemotherapy

February 24, 2016: Sanford head, neck cancer clinical trial will aim to activate immune system

April 2, 2015: Sanford enrolling patients for head, neck cancel clinical trial

August 1, 2014: Sanford clinical trial looks for genetic targets in cancer

Contact Us  

Jan Wernisch, BSN OCN CCRP
Project Manager
Genomic and Preclinical Research
Phone: (605) 312-3324
Fax: (605) 312-3321

Christie Ellison, BSN, OCN, CCRP
Project Manager
Head and Neck Research
Phone: 605-312-3323
Fax: 605-312-3321


Lab News

May 2017 Dr. Steven Powell co-authored a phase II clinical study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology investigating the efficacy of Pembrolizumab in patients with recurrent/metastatic head and neck cancer.  <"Pembrolizumab for platinum- and cetuximab-refractory head and neck cancer: results from a single-arm, phase II study".

April 2017 Dr. Powell published an article in Oncology Issues highlighting increased cancer patient options at Sanford Health due to improved access to immunotherapy clinical trials. Oncology Issues is published by the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) and this article was a tribute to the Sanford Cancer Center as the winner of the 2016 ACCC Innovator Award. "Advancing immuno-onoclogy in the community setting."

March 2017 Steven Powell, MD, along with Jill Weimer, PhD, presented to participants of the Leadership Sioux Falls course, organized by the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. This program fosters the development of leadership in the greater Sioux Falls community. Dr. Powell spoke on the various oncology clinical trials facilitated through Sanford's clinical research team.

March 2017 Dr. Steven Powell and Dr. Jonathan Bleeker were featured in a Wall Street Journal Article.The article addressed how genetic testing provides specific therapy for patients, and recognized Sanford Health as an innovative healthcare facility that provides cancer therapies that many rural facilities cannot.

February 2017 Dr. Steven Powell was featured on KSOO-A Better You where he discussed a few lung cancer trials.