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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Bloomingdale's Award

Area(s) of Focus

Joan S. Brugge, PhD

Louise Foote Pfeiffer Professor of Cell Biology
Director, Ludwig Center at Harvard
Harvard Medical School
Boston, Massachusetts

Current Research

Tumors evolve through expansion of individual tumor cells, generating both genetic and nongenetic changes that select for the most ‘fit’ cells. This process results in considerable genetic diversity among tumor cells within individual tumors that can profoundly impact disease progression and drug resistance, one of the most significant challenges in cancer treatment. In order to determine which subpopulations of tumor cells contribute to disease progression and drug resistance, Dr. Brugge has undertaken a unique approach to track the fate of millions of individual breast cancer cells in a laboratory model system. By devising a way to label each each tumor cell with a unique tag, her team has demonstrated two different cultures of patient-derived triple-negative breast cancers. With this framework in place, they will work to identify subpopulations of tumor cells that metastasize or develop resistance to cancer therapies. These studies promise to provide valuable information on tumor cell population dynamics during tumor progression and after drug treatment which will ultimately help guide the development of new therapies for the treatment of breast cancer.


Dr. Brugge is Co-Director of the Ludwig Center at Harvard Medical School. A graduate of Northwestern University, she did graduate work at the Baylor College of Medicine, completing her PhD in 1975, followed by postdoctoral training at the University of Colorado with Dr. Raymond Erikson. Dr. Brugge has held full professorships at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she was also named an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. From 1992-1997 Dr. Brugge was Scientific Director of the biotechnology company ARIAD. She joined Harvard in 1997 as Professor of Cell Biology, was Chair of Cell Biology from 2004 - 2014, and became Co-Director of the Ludwig Center at Harvard in 2014.

Dr. Brugge’s awards include an NIH Merit Award, an American Cancer Society Research Professorship and the Senior Career Recognition Award from the American Society of Cell Biology.  She is the recipient of BCRF's 2015 Jill Rose Award for research excellence.  She has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.

Dr. Brugge is investigating the mechanisms involved in breast cancer initiation and progression. Her laboratory has utilized three dimensional cultures of normal breast cells and breast tumor cells to recapitulate the organization of cells in their natural context and provide important insights relating to the mechanisms whereby genes that are altered in breast cancer contribute to tumor formation and progression as well as those that mediate resistance to cancer therapies.