You are here

BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Play for P.I.N.K. Award

Area(s) of Focus

James Hicks, PhD

Research Professor,
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York
Research Professor, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California

Current Research

The goal of precision, or personalized, medicine is to deliver the right drug to the right person at the right time. This requires a deep understanding of the changes in breast cancer that occur throughout the course of treatment. Dr. Hicks is collaborating with BCRF grantees Peter Kuhn (Univeristy of Southern California) and Michael Wigler (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, NY) in the development and validation of technologies that have made it possible to study breast cancers at the cellular level with a simple blood draw, or fluid biopsy. His ongoing work with Dr. Kuhn aims to optimize and implement a comprehensive fluid biopsy for breast cancer by incorporating the proteomic and genomic information from circulating cancer cells and circulating tumor DNA to obtain a complete description of the disease. This research combines technology development with mathematical analysis to create a single assay that leverages a variety of information found in blood and circulating cells. Using a biorepository from nearly 100 early and late stage patients they will assess the presence of both cells and cell-free DNA, analyzing the full range of cell types present in each sample, while increasing the sensitivity of the platform to detect mutations in circulating tumor DNA. The results from these efforts will enable the first truly comprehensive fluid biopsy and accelerate the path to personalized medicine.

Tumors are composed of a complex mixture of cells with different genomic makeups that influence response to treatment and tumor behavior. Since developing the first single cell genomic methods in 2011, Drs. Wigler and Hicks have applied the continued support of BCRF to the dual goals of improving the technology and applying it to the challenge of providing physicians with new diagnostic tools that will take breast cancer therapy to a new level of precision and effectiveness. In the coming year they will focus on profiling the genome of rare cells and circulating DNA in samples of blood. Using a novel technology called RepSeq they will be able to reduce the cost of single cell genomics, making the technology accessible for large-scale clinical trials, while advancing another sequencing-based technology for the early detection of recurrent breast cancer through a blood test. Other efforst include studying the tumor microenvironment to advance our understanding of how cells become metastatic, and the role of the immune system in that process and in therapeutic response. 


Dr. Hicks is a molecular geneticist using genomics to study the initiation and progression of cancer in human patients with the goal of developing clinical assays for improving the treatment of the disease.  His current studies expand on his previous work on the development of single cell genomic analysis in two important areas: first, to define the degree and mechanisms of cancer heterogeneity and response to therapy in breast and other solid tumors; and second, to apply single cell sequencing technology to fluid biopsies, procedures that can identify cancer cells in blood, bone marrow or even urine. These minimally invasive procedures provide the means to monitor cancer treatment sequentially during treatment is underway, to understand what changes take place in response to treatment and to alter treatment when necessary, a crucial component of the next generation of precision oncology.

Dr. Hicks has recently joined the newly formed Institute for Convergent Science at the University of Southern California in 2015 and will split his appointment between USC and Cold Spring Harbor for the next academic year.  His career has been split between academics and the biotechnology industry, co-founding several successful companies, and co-authoring over 100 research publications and 8 patent applications.

Dr. Hicks serves on the Board of Directors of one public company (NASDAQ:  BBSI) and is a Co-founder and Director of two privately held companies.  He is also a scientific advisor to several early stage biotechnology companies.