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Charlotte Kuperwasser, PhD
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
- Seeking to understand the fundamental events that lead to cancer.
- Laboratory studies are conducted to identify the factors that enable breast cells to lose their tissue identity to become cancerous.
- These exploratory studies will provide valuable insight into potential new therapeutic targets and prevention strategies.
Breast cancers arise from normal cells that have gone awry. As cancers develop, the cells look and act less like breast cells and form a new identity as a tumor, but the tumor is comprised of cells that look and act differently from each other. This makes them difficult to treat because not all cells in the tumor will respond to a drug the same way. Dr. Kuperwasser is conducting laboratory studies to learn how cells become cancer cells so that preventive measures can be developed.
Full Research Summary
One of the overarching challenges in breast cancer research is to identify what genes drive cancer growth. Research has shown that breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease with diverse genetic and biologic properties that drive tumor responses to therapy.
Despite advances in targeted therapies, significant fractions of women treated with these therapies either do not respond or eventually relapse. This observation suggests that unidentified drivers are fueling tumor growth.
Dr. Kuperwasser's team has discovered a new set of genes that causes breast cells to lose their identity. They cooperate with the genetic mutations found in cancers to drive cancer formation and are able to change the breast cell’s identity by affecting the way other genes are made in cells.
Breast cancer is, at its roots, a disease of dysfunctional tissue identity–breast cells no longer properly respond to their developmental cues and begin to break free from their restricted behaviors. Indeed, breast cancers lose tissue identity as they progress and may begin to acquire traits of different tissue types including skin, bone, cartilage, and even brain.
The less breast cancers resemble the normal breast tissue, the more aggressive they are. How these different traits arise and whether these abnormal traits represent states of vulnerability that could be targeted for cancer therapy are not known.
This year, Dr. Kuperwasser's team is more closely investigating their discovery, which may be a new fundamental hallmark of cancer that could suggest new targets to treat, and possibly even prevent, breast cancer.
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.