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Francisco J. Esteva, MD, PhD

Professor, Department of Medicine
Director, Breast Medical Oncology Program
Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center
New York University, Langone Health
New York, New York

Current Research

  • Seeking to improve treatment and prevention of breast cancer metastasis with new therapeutic targets.
  • Studies are ongoing to determine the potential diagnostic and prognostic utility of circulating tumor markers.
  • This research may provide a novel and noninvasive way to monitor disease and predict risk of recurrence.

Our cells contain genetic material (DNA and RNA) that regulate cell processes by creating instructions (code) to make specific proteins. Mutations to DNA can lead to too much or not enough of a particular protein and promote tumor development and growth. Not all the genetic material, however, function to make proteins, and the role of these “non-coding” genetic molecules in tumor growth is only just beginning to be understood. Dr. Esteva is conducting studies to understand the role of non-coding RNA in patients with aggressive breast cancers. 

Full Research Summary

For decades, the dominant paradigm in human cell biology was that genes (DNA) were transcribed into RNA molecules, which in turn were translated into proteins (the building blocks of life). However, only 1-2 percent of the RNA that is transcribed in human cells is actually used to make proteins.

Dr. Esteva's group is interested in understanding the biological and clinical role of non-coding RNAs in breast cancer. The non-coding RNAs (RNAs that are not translated into proteins) belong to a large family of nucleic acids that are only just beginning to be understood.

MicroRNAs are tiny non-coding RNA molecules that can be detected in the blood and tissues and may be used in the future for diagnostic and prognostic tests. Dr. Esteva’s team analyzed the expression of 800 microRNAs in plasma from early-stage breast cancer patients and identified one microRNA that predicted development of metastases. The analysis confirmed that this novel biomarker is expressed at higher levels in patients with metastases.

Another type of non-coding RNA called long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) was initially considered to be genomic "noise". However, researchers now understand that lncRNAs play important roles in the regulation of chromatin– the packaged form of DNA–and gene expression (e.g., which genes are turned "on" or "off"). This year, the team will work to identify lncRNAs that are selectively expressed in different breast cancer subtypes, including but not limited to triple negative breast cancer.

Researchers still have much to learn about the role of microRNAs and lncRNAs in breast cancer. Dr. Esteva's BCRF-supported research will evaluate whether these RNAs can be used as biomarkers in the blood and tumor tissue from breast cancer patients and whether they can potentially be used in prognostic tests and as therapeutic targets in breast cancer.


Dr. Esteva received his MD and PhD degrees from the University of Zaragoza School of Medicine in his native Spain. He completed a residency in internal medicine at Cooper Hospital (Camden, NJ) and a fellowship in medical oncology at Georgetown University Medical Center. Dr. Esteva joined the faculty at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in 1997 and rose to the rank of Professor. In 2013, Dr. Esteva moved to the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at New York University Langone, where he serves as Associate Director of Clinical Investigation, Director of Breast Medical Oncology, and co-Director of the Breast Cancer Disease Management Group. Dr. Esteva is board certified in medical oncology and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. In 2010 Dr. Esteva was inducted as a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He is a co-author in more than 200 publications including peer-reviewed research articles, invited reviews and book chapters.

Grid Reasercher Headshot - Esteva  Franciscoa

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Macy's Award

Area(s) of Focus