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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Play for P.I.N.K. Award in honor of Laura Lassman and in memory of Nicholas Lassman

Area(s) of Focus

Tan A. Ince, MD, PhD

Scientific Director,
Live Tumor Culture Core and Tissue Bank Core Facility
Director, Tumor Stem Cell Division,
Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute
Associate Professor, Department of Pathology
University of Miami
Miami, Florida

Current Research

Many environmental and life-style factors including diet, exercise and hormones are known to influence development of breast cancer. These effects are not easily explained from a genetics perspective because hormonal and environmental factors do not cause genetic mutations outright. They may, however affect how DNA is packaged in cells and thus which genes are “turned on” or “turned off.” It is remarkable to think that a single molecule of DNA, if stretched into a line, would be six feet long and so must be folded thousands of times to fit into the nucleus of a cell. This process is accomplished by epigenetic proteins. Dr. Ince’s research has shown that packaging occurs differently in different cells and the “epigentic program” of a cell can determine if cell becomes a cancer cell, including its ability to metastasize (spread to other tissues). His laboratory has identified eleven breast cell types with distinct epigenetic programs that give rise to cancers with significant differences in behavior and response to treatment. Their goal is to translate these discoveries to the clinic and develop new strategies for treatment, because unlike genetic mutations that are permenant, epigenetic proteins can be targeted to reverse the cancer causing effects. They have shown that estrogen, vitamin-D and testosterone can be used for this purpose, and are conducting experiments to test these treatments in the laboratory.


Dr. Ince received his PhD in Pharmacology from Cornell and completed clinical training at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ince was a visiting clinical scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2000-2007, where he developed a new cell culture nutrient medium that is now widely used to grow human breast and ovary cells. In 2010, he was recruited to the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Dr. Ince's research focuses on the role of normal cell-of-origin in determining tumor phenotype and development of culture systems for in vitro culture of primary human tissues and tumors. The use of normal cell types as a reference to classify tumors, however, has not been widely emulated in solid tumors, partly due to a more limited understanding of epithelial cell differentiation. Dr. Ince used a new and innovative multiplexed immunofluorescence technology to monitor multiple markers simultaneously in the very same cells. Based on the study, Dr. Ince and colleagues described eleven new normal breast subtypes and showed that each human tumor is similar to one of these normal cell types. These results led to new normal cell type-based classification of breast cancers that has important implications for understanding breast cancer prognostics and how breast cancer is treated. In brief, the results of this study indicate that breast tumors arising from different normal cells have significantly different clinical outcomes and drug response, and should be classified and treated differently.