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 proteins, RNA and DNA. 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. Comen and Tavazoie are interested in a specific cellular material contained in tumor-derived exosomes called microRNA, small fragments of RNA, which is the cell’s protein coding material. 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. In their BCRF research they will 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. In addition to providing important biological insights into breast cancer progression, the discovery of predictive exosomal microRNAs could guide clinical management by informing physicians as to the likelihood of whether or not a suspicious breast mass found on mammography represents breast cancer. Ultimately, this work has great potential for clinical impact and could provide novel insights into this largely unexplored area of circulating small-RNAs in cancer.
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 understanding of metastasis to develop more-effective and less-toxic treatments.