Titles and Affiliations

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

Research area

Developing a minimally invasive blood test that can detect and classify breast cancer and predict response to treatment and the likelihood of metastasis.

Impact

Mammography is the gold standard for breast cancer screening but does not distinguish between a benign mass and malignant breast disease. Invasive biopsy is then needed to analyze the tissue to determine the presence or extent of breast cancer. Traditional biopsy is painful, time-consuming, and only gives a snapshot of the disease in a specific area at a moment in time. Major progress has been made in developing techniques that can detect tumor biomarkers among molecules from normal cells, including liquid biopsy, a minimally invasive diagnostic and monitoring tool that tests a fluid, typically blood, for tumor biomarkers. Liquid biopsy has the potential to identify breast cancer in its earliest stages, before a lump or tumor could be discovered, and in later stages, to monitor how the cancer is responding to therapy in real time.

Progress Thus Far

Drs. Tavazoie and Comen are working to identify specific pieces of tumor genetic material that circulate in the blood and can be used as predictive biomarkers to augment mammography when a suspicious lesion is found, predict the likelihood of a breast cancer to metastasize, or monitor response to therapy. This year, Drs. Tavazoie and Comen recruited 50 more patients on their trial and are using the data collected thus far to develop and train a machine learning algorithm that can distinguish breast cancer from benign breast disease and metastatic disease from localized breast cancer. 

What's next

Drs. Tavazoie and Comen will continue their work to validate the diagnostic and prognostic value of circulating breast cancer biomarkers and refine their algorithm with current data, as well as identify other types of breast cancer biomarkers in the blood. 

Biography

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.

BCRF Investigator Since

2011

Donor Recognition

The Lampert Foundation Award

Areas of Focus

Co-Investigator