Assistant Attending Physician
Breast Medicine Service
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
New York, New York
Exosomes are circulating particles released by cells that contain cellular content including proteins, RNA and DNA– the cell’s protein and gene coding material. Research has revealed that tumor-derived exosomes can disseminate throughout the body via the bloodstream, and ultimately fuse with non-cancerous cells in distant organs. Drs. Tavazoie and Comen are interested in a specific cellular material contained in tumor-derived exosomes called microRNA. MicroRNAs are known to play multiple roles in controlling how genes are turned on and off and the researchers believe that the microRNA found in tumor derived exosomes may be informative about breast cancer progression. The goals of Drs. Tavazoie’s and Comen’s BCRF research are to: 1) characterize the types of microRNAs that are present in the exosomes of breast cancer patients, 2) determine how they drive breast cancer progression and 3) determine whether these circulating microRNAs could be used as biomarkers for the detection and classification of breast cancer. Using deep-sequencing technologies, they have discovered exosomal microRNAs and free microRNAs that circulate in the blood of women with breast cancer and at least one microRNA that is abundant in the blood of women with metastatic breast cancer. In the coming year, they plan to validate the prognostic and diagnostic value of exosomal and free miRNAs in a prospective cohort of 100 women and determine if such a blood marker can identify women with breast cancer and also identify those with breast cancer that is at high-risk for metastatic relapse. This work has important potential for clinical impact and could provide novel insights into this largely unexplored area of circulating small-RNAs in cancer. Moreover, biological studies of identified microRNAs could reveal druggable molecular mechanisms underlying metastatic progression.
Dr. Elizabeth Comen is a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center with a practice devoted to the study and treatment of patients with all stages of breast cancer. Dr. Comen earned her BA from Harvard College and her MD from Harvard Medical School. She completed residency at Mount Sinai Hospital and her fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She has presented her research many times at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting and the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. She has also been awarded several peer-reviewed grants, including the Young Investigator Award from the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO.
Dr. Comen’s research focuses on the mechanisms by which breast cancer metastasizes and spreads to distant organs. In particular, she collaborates with several laboratories to help translate laboratory discoveries regarding metastasis into clinically meaningful treatments for patients at risk for and with metastatic breast cancer. With her laboratory collaborators, Dr. Comen aims to identify unique biomarkers that can help identify new diagnosis of breast cancer as well as identify those women with early-stage breast cancer who are at increased risk for metastasis. For patients with metastasis, the team is using laboratory methods understanding of metastasis to develop more effective and less toxic treatments.