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BCRF Grantee Since


Area(s) of Focus

Sohail Tavazoie, MD, PhD

Leon Hess Assistant 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

Work by Drs. Sohail Tavazoie and colleagues first identified novel molecular regulators, which suppress breast cancer metastasis. These regulators are small RNA molecules termed “microRNAs.” miRNAs are present both in cancer tissue as well as in the bloodstream. More recently, other researchers have identified different miRNAs in the circulation at the time of a new diagnosis of breast cancer and before a cancer has spread outside of the breast to other distant organs. To date, however, these studies and the microRNAs they have implicated have not been reproduced by other laboratories. Moreover, it has yet to be explored whether miRNAs can be correlated to findings on breast imaging, such as abnormal mammograms and MRIs. In this study, Drs. Tavazoie and Comen propose to determine whether select circulating biomarkers (such as miRNAs) correlate with breast imaging as well as findings on breast biopsy. They hypothesize that there may be a difference in select biomarker levels between benign and cancerous breast tissue and that these molecular differences can be analyzed and quantified from circulating blood. The discovery of such microRNA-based biomarkers may ultimately help refine breast imaging interpretation. If the researchers are able to correlate specific miRNAs to new diagnoses of cancer, this study could substantially enhance the utility of breast cancer imaging. More importantly, such a biomarker may, in the future, be used broadly in the primary care setting to identify patients who have undergone breast imaging or those who have had a normal mammogram or MRI but whose breast cancers are below the detection limit of radiographic methods.


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, 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 blocks 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.