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Charlotte Kuperwasser, PhD

Associate Professor, Developmental, Molecular, and Chemical Biology
Director, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Laboratory for the Convergence of Biomedical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Molecular Oncology Research Institute (MORI)
Tufts University School of Medicine
Boston, Massachusetts

Current Research

Goal: To discover factors that put normal cells at risk of becoming cancer cells.

Impact: Dr. Kuperwasser is studying how breast cells lose their “identity” or acquire new traits and become cancerous. Her work could lead to novel targeted treatments for breast cancer and possibly reveal new ways to prevent it.

What’s next: She and her team will investigate how factors which they have previously identified put cells at risk of becoming cancerous. 

The cells in our body constantly receive messages that direct their behavior—to grow, to rest, and so on. Cancer arises when breast cells no longer respond properly to these messages, and as the disease develops, these cells look and behave less like breast cells and form a new identity as a breast tumor. Dr. Kuperwasser is investigating how this process occurs with the goal of identifying new drivers of breast cancer that may be targets for cancer therapy. 

Full Research Summary

Research Area: Understanding how breast cells lose their ability to respond to normal growth signals and become cancerous cells. 

Impact: Breast cancer is a disease of dysfunctional tissue identity whereby normal cells no longer respond to growth signals and instead grow out of control. These cells can even acquire properties associated with different tissue types. In fact, the less breast cancers resemble normal breast tissue, the more aggressive they are. Dr. Kuperwasser and her colleagues have engineered a 3D model system of breast tissue to allow them to study how stem cells, specialized cells that can regenerate into other cell types, receive and transmit growth signals. Understanding this process is key to understanding how it becomes corrupted leading to the development of cancer. Using this specialized model system, they have identified genes that cause breast cells to lose their identity. Her team will study how these genes work in order to shed light on the earliest events in cancer development. She hopes that these studies will provide new targets for treatment and possibly prevention of breast cancer. 

Current investigation: Dr. Kuperwasser’s team will continue to study these potential new gene targets and determine how they interact with the cellular environment to promote the transition of normal breast cells to cancerous breast cells. 

What she’s learned so far: Dr. Kuperwasser and her team have demonstrated that the 3D model they developed recapitulates the environment of breast tissue and can be used to study the transformation of stem cells to proliferative cells. They have found that a protein called DDR1 is required for this process through activation of the Notch1 and Jagged1 signaling pathways – these pathways mediate signals from the extracellular matrix to drive cell differentiation. 

What’s next: The team will continue to characterize the role of DDR1 in the transition of normal breast cells to cancer cells. The results of these studies will illuminate the early events that drive cancer formation and provide potential targets for cancer prevention. 

Biography

Dr. Charlotte Kuperwasser is the Director of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Laboratory for the Convergence of Biomedical, Physical and Engineering Sciences at Tufts University School of Medicine. She is an Associate Professor Developmental, Molecular & Chemical Biology and an investigator at the Molecular Oncology Research Institute (MORI) at Tufts Medical Center. She is a national and internationally recognized expert in the fields of mammary gland biology and breast cancer.

Dr. Kuperwasser has made seminal contributions in the field of mammary gland development, breast cancer, stromal-epithelial cell biology, and stem cells. Her major scientific achievements include the creation of innovative and novel humanized laboratory models to study normal and cancer development as well as metastasis. Using these models, she was the first to enumerate the cellular origins of human breast cancer and model BRCA1-mutation in humans. Dr. Kuperwasser has also made seminal achievements in identifying and characterizing normal and cancer stem cells (CSCs) as well as enumerating the master regulators that control stem cells and cell fate decisions in the breast.

Dr. Kuperwasser received her PhD at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and was a Jane Coffin Child's Postdoctoral Fellow in the laboratory of Robert Weinberg at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT. Dr. Kuperwasser has been a Howard Hughes Fellow, a Merck Fellow and received several awards including the COG/Aventis Young Investigator Award, the Raymond & Beverly Sackler Award, and the Natalie V. Zucker Award.

Large Researcher Headshot - Kuperwasser Charlotte

BCRF Investigator Since

2006

Donor Recognition

The Ann Taylor and LOFT Award

Area(s) of Focus