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Herbert Levine, PhD

Hasselmann Professor of Bioengineering
Professor of Physics
Rice University
Houston, Texas
EIF/Stand Up To Cancer

Current Research

  • Studies are aimed at improving the effectiveness of immunotherapy by studying the tumor ecosystem.
  • A Stand Up To Cancer Convergence team applies a multi-disciplinary approach to tumor biology.
  • This collaborative research will lead to approaches that modify the tumor environment to improve prevention and treatment outcomes.

Tumors grow in a diverse environment comprised of a variety of cells types, which make up the tumor microenvironment – TME. This environment can either promote or suppress tumor growth, but often times, tumor cells co-opt normal cells to their advantage. The Stand Up to Cancer/BCRF project team utilizes a variety of technologies and research approaches to understand the interactions between tumor cells and normal cells to identify potential therapeutic and prevention strategies.

Full Research Summary

Tumors consist not only of cancer cells, but also stromal and immune cells that constitute the tumor microenvironment (TME). The TME is an ecosystem of multiple cell populations, and the extracellular matrix (ECM) that they produce, that interact in a complex fashion to yield tissue form and function.

The SU2C team brings together expertise in high dimensional histology, image analysis, culturing cells from primary human breast tumors, 3D spheroids, bioinformatics, ecology modeling, and nanotechnology to study the ecology of the TME in breast cancer and develop therapeutic and imaging applications.

During the course of the BCRF-supported research, the SU2C team profiled stromal cells and epithelial cells from normal breast reduction samples.  By comparing the profiles of normal cells from BRCA1 carriers to non-BRCA carriers, they found early changes in cell compositions as well as molecular alterations in the mammoplasty reduction tissues of BRCA1 carriers. 

In the coming year, they will identify factors that promote the proliferation of mammary epithelial cells from BRCA1 carriers and test which pathways are critical for malignant growth. 

These studies will help underscore players involved in the heterogeneity of BRCA1-associated breast cancer as well as the identification of potential targets for cancer intervention.


Dr. Levine is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He serves as the co-director for the National Science Foundation sponsored Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP), located on the campus of Rice University, as a partnership among Rice, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston. In this position, Dr. Levine supervises a large interdisciplinary team of researchers who apply methods from physical science to vexing problems in biology and biomedicine. A particular emphasis in recent years has been on cancer, where pure biology-based approaches have not proven capable of finding effective treatments or cures for metastatic disease. Dr. Levine is a member of the editorial board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, editor in chief of the journal Physical Biology and an associate editor of Physical Review Letters. He is first author on over 250 publications in the area of theoretical physics as applied to a wide variety of systems, especially living systems.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Levine

BCRF Investigator Since


Area(s) of Focus