Associate Professor of Anatomy & Cellular Biology
Tufts University School of Medicine
Molecular Oncology Research Institute (MORI)
Breast cancer is a strikingly heterogeneous disease comprising a multitude of different subtypes. Although some breast tumors resemble the cells of the normal breast, the most aggressive and deadly forms of breast cancers do not. This is surprising since Dr. Kuperwasser's previous work supported by the BCRF has shown that 99% of all breast cancers originate from a common precursor cell. This suggests that to develop aggressive types of breast cancer, normal breast cells lose important information directing them to fates that are no longer well controlled and fates that are found in normal breast tissues.
This past year, Dr. Kuperwasser's team has been studying the master orchestrators that tell a cell to be a breast cell and determine how they are corrupted during cancer formation. Accordingly, they have begun to uncover the essential master regulators in human breast cells and how they control cell fate decisions to limit life span, growth potential, and even function. This work has led to remarkable discoveries about how these master regulators when disrupted activate latent stem cell programs in breast cells and how they to the formation of aggressive breast cancers.
During the last six months, Dr. Kuperwasser’s group has submittedfour manuscripts supported by BCRF that focus on breast cell fate decisions and how they are perturbed during the formation of cancer. Most notably, these studies have revealed that a protein called SLUG is required for breast cancer formation. In the absence of this protein, cancers cannot develop even when cells harbor potent gene mutations. In another study, the researchers discovered that a master regulator called TAZ is necessary for breast cell plasticity. Remarkably, this gene is amplified in 44% of basal-like breast cancers, showing for the first time how basal-like cancers can arise from luminal cells. The last two studies have characterized progenitor cells in normal human breast tissues and have identified hormonal and non-hormonal means by which they are regulated. These four studies have led to remarkable discoveries about how master regulators control stem cell programs in breast cells and how they lead to the formation of aggressive breast cancers.
Dr. Charlotte Kuperwasser is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology at Tufts University School of Medicine and an investigator at the Molecular Oncology Research Institute (MORI) at Tufts Medical Center. She has been working in breast cancer research since her graduate training at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she completed her PhD in 2000.
As a Jane Coffin Child's Postdoctoral Fellow in the laboratory of Robert Weinberg, she developed a novel humanized model to successfully recreate normal and neoplastic human breast tissues in laboratory models. In addition, she also developed another novel humanized model of human breast cancer metastasis to human bone.
Dr. Kuperwasser is a nationally recognized expert in breast cancer research, xenograft laboratory models, and the tissue microenviroment. Dr. Kuperwasser has received several awards including the COG/Aventis Young Investigator Award, the Raymond & Beverly Sackler Award, and the Natalie V. Zucker Award