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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Smart Circle/RGS Labs International Award

Area(s) of Focus

David Cortez, PhD

Ingram Professor of Cancer Research
Professor of Biochemistry
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
Nashville, Tennessee

Current Research

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for approximately 25 percent of breast cancer deaths. There are no targeted therapies for this disease and thus, a critical need persists to develop better therapeutic options. Dr. Cortez’s laboratory is collaborating with other researchers at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center to develop inhibitors of the ATR protein, a critical protein in DNA repair and cell division. The DNA damage response pathway is especially important in TNBC making ATR a promising drug target in TNBC. In the coming year, Dr. Cortez and colleagues will continue their studies in triple-negative breast cancer cell lines to identify gene mutations or changes that will make these cancer cells highly sensitive to ATR inhibitors and to understand what happens when the ATR pathway is inhibited in cancer cells. These studies will generate a better understanding of how ATM contributes to cancer. They will provide valuable leads to define biomarkers that indicate whether the ATR pathway is important to the growth of a particular cancer and to the development of new drugs targeting the ATR signaling pathway. Results will help direct clinical trials and aid in selecting the appropriate patient population most likely to respond to these new drugs.


Dr. Cortez graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with Highest Honors in Biology and Biochemistry. He received his doctorate in 1997 in Molecular Cancer Biology from Duke University. After post-doctoral training as a Jane Coffin Childs Fellow at the Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Cortez joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2002. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2007 and Professor of Biochemistry and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research in 2009. Dr. Cortez is Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Biochemistry, and a member of the Editorial Boards of the journals Cell Reports, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Journal of Biochemistry. He became co-leader of the Genome Maintenance Program in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center upon its inception in 2007.

Dr. Cortez’s research focuses on the mechanisms that maintain genome integrity. His research has been published in journals including Science, Genes and Development, Cell Reports, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cancer Research, and Molecular Cell. He has received several awards recognizing his scientific achievements including the Howard Temin Award from the National Cancer Institute, the Wilson S. Stone Memorial Award, and a Pew Scholar Award from the Pew Charitable Trusts.