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David Cortez, PhD

Ingram Professor of Cancer Research
Professor of Biochemistry
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
Nashville, Tennessee

Current Research

  • Seeking to discover new strategies to improve outcomes for patients with triple negative breast cancer.

  • Laboratory studies are conducted to determine the mechanism of resistance to a promising new therapy and identify combination approaches to improve response.

  • These studies are paving the way to new strategies that could improve outcomes for patients with this aggresive form of breast cancer.

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for approximately 25 percent of breast cancer deaths. No targeted therapies are available for this disease, and thus a critical need persists to develop better therapeutic options.

There is considerable overlap in the biology of triple negative breast cancers with cancers caused by defects in the BRCA sucseptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2.  The first targeted therapy for BRCA1/2 cancers (olaparib, trade name Lymparza) has been approved for ovarian cancer and is expected to soon be approved for breast cancer. This represents a major advance for this subset of cancer patients because olaparib can be effective even when cytotoxic chemotherapy stops working.  Unfortunately, as with most therapies, resistance can arise.

Dr. Cortez’s group previously discovered one mechanism that is responsible for resistance to olaparib in preclinical models. In the next year, the group will confirm these finding and more generally define how olaparib resistance arises in patients.  They will also look for new drug combinations that can prevent or overcome resistance.

The overall goal of this work is to generate information that can be translated into the clinic to improve outcomes for TNBC patients.


Dr. Cortez graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with Highest Honors in Biology and Biochemistry. He received his doctorate in 1997 in Molecular Cancer Biology from Duke University. After postdoctoral training as a Jane Coffin Childs Fellow at the Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Cortez joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2002. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2007 and Professor of Biochemistry and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research in 2009. Dr. Cortez is Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Biochemistry, and a member of the Editorial Boards of the journals Cell Reports, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Journal of Biochemistry. He became co-leader of the Genome Maintenance Program in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center upon its inception in 2007.

Dr. Cortez’s research focuses on the mechanisms that maintain genome integrity. His research has been published in journals including Science, Genes and Development, Cell Reports, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cancer Research, and Molecular Cell. He has received several awards recognizing his scientific achievements including the Howard Temin Award from the National Cancer Institute, the Wilson S. Stone Memorial Award, and a Pew Scholar Award from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The ULTA Beauty Award

Area(s) of Focus