Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Principal Faculty, Harvard Stem Cell Institute
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School
Metastasis is the process of a cancer spreading to a new organ site and it is the primary cause of breast cancer-related death. Improving treatment response will reduce the occurrence of metastases and improve breast cancer outcomes. Over the course of her BCRF-supported research, Dr. Polyak has found that tumors are made up of a diverse collection of cancer cells with very different properties. She found that tumors with a higher degree of cellular heterogeneity are more likely to progress to metastatic disease and be resistant to treatment. Dr. Polyak continues to direct her BCRF research funds to the task of characterizing the different populations of tumor cells within a tumor to understand which cells are promoting drug resistance and metastasis so that more effective treatments can be developed.
Kornelia Polyak, MD, PhD is a Professor of Medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, and is an internationally recognized leader in the breast cancer field. Research in Dr. Polyak’s laboratory is dedicated to the molecular analysis of human breast cancer with the goal of identifying differences between normal and cancerous breast tissue, determining their consequences, and using this information to improve the clinical management of breast cancer patients. Her lab has devoted much effort to develop new ways to study tumors as a whole and to apply interdisciplinary approaches. Using these methods, Dr. Polyak’s lab been at the forefront of studies analyzing purified cell populations from normal and neoplastic human breast tissue at genomic scale and in situ at single cell level and applying mathematical and ecological models for the better understanding of breast tumor evolution. She has also been successful with the clinical translation of her findings including the testing of efficacy of JAK and BET bromodomain inhibitors for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer in clinical trials. Dr. Polyak has received numerous awards including the Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research in 2011 and the 2012 AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research.