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 and that the more regional heterogeneity is observed within a tumor, the more likely it is that the tumor will not respond to treatment and will progress to metastatic disease. Expanding on these studies she found that regional heterogeneity within tumors leads to the selection of cancer cell populations with different properties. In the coming year, she will continue these studies to characterize regional heterogeneity in the tumor microenvironment and determine potential associations between microenvironmental and tumor cell genetic heterogeneity. She will place special emphasis to tumor-infiltrating leukocytes, since leukocytes are one of the most mobile cell populations within tumors and they have both tumor suppressive (e.g., anti-tumor immune response) and tumor promoting (e.g., secreting proteins that enhance tumor cell proliferation) properties. The successful completion of the project will improve our understanding of how the microenvironment and the immune system shape breast tumor evolution. This knowledge can be the used for the design of more effective combination therapies that target both the cancer cells and their microenvironment.
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.