Assistant Attending Physician
Breast Medicine Service
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
New York, New York
Work by Dr. Sohail Tavazoie and colleagues first identified novel molecular regulators, which suppress breast cancer metastasis. These regulators are small RNA molecules termed “microRNAs.” miRNAs are present both in cancer tissue as well as in the bloodstream. More recently, other researchers have identified different miRNAs in the circulation at the time of a new diagnosis of breast cancer and before a cancer has spread outside of the breast to other distant organs. To date, however, these studies and the microRNAs they have implicated have not been reproduced by other laboratories. Moreover, it has yet to be explored whether miRNAs can be correlated to findings on breast imaging, such as abnormal mammograms and MRIs. In this study, Dr. Comen, together with Dr. Tavazoie, proposes to determine whether select circulating biomarkers (such as miRNAs) correlate with breast imaging as well as findings on breast biopsy. They hypothesize that there may be a difference in select biomarker levels between benign and cancerous breast tissue and that these molecular differences can be analyzed and quantified from circulating blood. The discovery of such microRNA-based biomarkers may ultimately help refine breast imaging interpretation. If the researchers are able to correlate specific miRNAs to new diagnoses of cancer, this study could substantially enhance the utility of breast cancer imaging. More importantly, such a biomarker may, in the future, be used broadly in the primary care setting to identify patients who have undergone breast imaging or those who have had a normal mammogram or MRI but whose breast cancers are below the detection limit of radiographic methods.
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. Her 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.
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.