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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Lampert Foundation Award

Area(s) of Focus

Sohail Tavazoie, MD, PhD

Leon Hess Associate Professor & Head, Elizabeth and Vincent Meyer Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology
Senior Attending Physician
The Rockefeller University
Assistant Attending Physician, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
New York, New York

Current Research

Exosomes are circulating particles released by cells that contain cellular content including proteins, RNA and DNA– the cell’s protein and gene coding material. Research has revealed that tumor-derived exosomes can disseminate throughout the body via the bloodstream, and ultimately fuse with non-cancerous cells in distant organs. Drs. Tavazoie and Comen are interested in a specific cellular material contained in tumor-derived exosomes called microRNA. MicroRNAs are known to play multiple roles in controlling how genes are turned on and off and the researchers believe that the microRNA found in tumor derived exosomes may be informative about breast cancer progression. The goals of Drs. Tavazoie’s and Comen’s BCRF research are to: 1) characterize the types of microRNAs that are present in the exosomes of breast cancer patients, 2) determine how they drive breast cancer progression and 3) determine whether these circulating microRNAs could be used as biomarkers for the detection and classification of breast cancer. Using deep-sequencing technologies, they have discovered exosomal microRNAs and free microRNAs that circulate in the blood of women with breast cancer and at least one microRNA that is abundant in the blood of women with metastatic breast cancer. In the coming year, they plan to validate the prognostic and diagnostic value of exosomal and free miRNAs in a prospective cohort of 100 women and determine if such a blood marker can identify women with breast cancer and also identify those with breast cancer that is at high-risk for metastatic relapse. This work has important potential for clinical impact and could provide novel insights into this largely unexplored area of circulating small-RNAs in cancer. Moreover, biological studies of identified microRNAs could reveal druggable molecular mechanisms underlying metastatic progression.


Sohail Tavazoie graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and completed an MD-PhD program at Harvard-MIT, followed by residency training in Internal Medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital at Harvard and medical oncology and postdoctoral fellowship training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In 2009, he was recruited to The Rockefeller University as Head of the Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology. In addition to his laboratory work, Dr. Tavazoie is an attending medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

His laboratory studies the roles that small-RNAs play in regulating cancer metastasis. Small-RNAs, also called microRNAs, have the ability to block the expression of genes. During his postdoctoral work in Joan Massague’s laboratory at MSKCC, Dr. Tavazoie discovered the first set of non-coding RNAs that act as suppressors of metastasis. These small RNAs were found to be shut off in breast tumors of patients that metastasized. His lab at The Rockefeller University has shown that each of these small-RNAs block the expression of distinct sets of genes that enable breast cancer cells to metastasize. These genes were found to enhance the invasive capacity of breast cancer cells as well as their ability to recruit endothelial cells. His laboratory studies the mechanisms by which these small-RNAs and the genes they regulate control metastasis. By better understanding the molecular pathways that govern metastatic progression, he hopes to enable the development of novel therapeutics that prevent the formation and progression of breast cancer metastasis.