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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
Chair, Department of Cell Biology
Harvard Medical School
Boston, Massachusetts

Current Research

A tumor evolves through expansion of individual tumor cells, and is driven by both genetic and non-genetic changes that take place during tumor development that select the most ‘fit’ tumor cells. These evolutionary changes can have profound effects on the disease and drug resistance, which is one of the most significant challenges in cancer treatment. In her BCRF research, Dr. Brugge is taking a unique approach to track millions of individual tumor cells in an experimental model system of breast cancer to see which cells develop metastases or are resistant to treatment. She is also studying why targeted therapies, therapies that target a specific protein on the tumor cell, don’t always work. In the course of this work, she’s found that certain environments around the tumor cells, called microenvironment niches, protect the cell from the drug used in the treatment and that combinations of targeted therapies can block these protective effects. In the coming year she will focus on resistance of HER2+ breast cancers to HER2-targeted therapies to understand the role of the microenvironment and to evaluate the effectiveness of combination therapies designed to inhibit protective microenvironment influences on invasive HER2+ tumors. Collectively, these studies promise to provide valuable information on breast cancer metastasis and drug resistance that will inform future clinical trials designs.


Dr. Brugge is Chair of the Department of Cell Biology and 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, and became Chair of Cell Biology in 2004 and 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 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.