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Elizabeth Comen, MD

Assistant Attending Physician
Breast Medicine Service
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
New York, New York

Current Research

  • Seeking to develop a blood-based test that can accurately detect and classify breast cancers.
  • Studies are ongoing to validate a biomarker to detect breast cancer and identify women at risk of breast cancer.
  • This work may lead to a non-invasive screening tool that can to save lives with early interventions.

Tumors release many factors into the blood and these factors can be used to detect progression of disease. Drs. Tavazoie and Comen are conduction studies of circulating tumor markers in the blood of breast cancer patients to understand how they drive breast cancer progression, and to develop biomarkers for the detection and classification of breast cancer. They hope that these studies will lead to a blood-based diagnostic test that will identify women at risk of metastasis and reduce the need for invasive tissue biopsies. 

Full Research Summary

Exosomes are circulating particles released by cells that contain cellular content including proteins and genetic material. Research has revealed that tumor-derived exosomes can spread throughout the body via the bloodstream and ultimately fuse with non-cancerous cells in distant organs.

Drs. Tavazoie and Comen are interested in a specific cellular material contained in tumor-derived exosomes called microRNA. MicroRNAs play multiple roles in controlling how genes are turned on and off, and the researchers believe that the microRNA found in tumor-derived exosomes may be informative about breast cancer progression.

Using deep-sequencing technologies, the research team identified a metastasis (Met) micro-RNA signature that enabled them to separate the majority of patients with metastatic breast cancer from patients with local tumors or benign breast diseases. 

They also discovered a metastasis-risk (Met-risk) micro-RNA signature that, in combination with the Met signature, identified the majority of patients with metastatic breast cancer and a small group of non-metastatic breast cancer patients that are predicted to be at risk of developing metastasis. 

In the upcoming year, they will refine the identified signatures and validate the prognostic and diagnostic value of cell-free microRNAs by recruiting an additional 120 age-, ethnicity-, and subtype-matched women to their study.

Predictive exosomal microRNAs could guide clinical management by informing clinicians about the likelihood of whether or not a suspicious breast mass found on mammography represents breast cancer. Moreover, exosomal microRNAs could inform clinicians of the likelihood that a malignant cancer will metastasize or respond to chemotherapeutic and targeted agents.


Dr. Elizabeth Comen is a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center with a practice devoted to the study and treatment of patients with all stages of breast cancer. Dr. Comen earned her BA from Harvard College and her MD from Harvard Medical School. She completed residency at Mount Sinai Hospital and her fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She has presented her research many times at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting and the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. She has also been awarded several peer-reviewed grants, including the Young Investigator Award from the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO.

Dr. Comen’s research focuses on the mechanisms by which breast cancer metastasizes and spreads to distant organs. In particular, she collaborates with several laboratories to help translate laboratory discoveries regarding metastasis into clinically meaningful treatments for patients at risk for and with metastatic breast cancer. With her laboratory collaborators, Dr. Comen aims to identify unique biomarkers that can help identify new diagnosis of breast cancer as well as identify those women with early-stage breast cancer who are at increased risk for metastasis. For patients with metastasis, the team is using laboratory methods understanding of metastasis to develop more effective and less toxic treatments.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Comen E

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Lampert Foundation Award

Area(s) of Focus