Titles and Affiliations

Associate Professor, Department of Human Microbiology
Sackler School of Medicine
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv, Israel

Research area

Understanding how tumors spread to other tissues and identifying new targets for therapeutic development.


Breast cancers that spread to other tissues—a process called metastasis—have evolved to gain a survival advantage that makes them resistant to cancer therapies. There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer and an urgent need to find effective therapies to both prevent and treat it. The research team of Drs. Tsarfaty and Graveel have been studying a potent driver of metastasis called MET. With BCRF support, their work has led to new insights into the activity of MET in promoting the motility and survival of cancer cells and identified other genes that partner with MET to promote metastasis. Collectively, their work is increasing our understanding of how cancer cells gain the ability to spread and form new tumors and will inform new strategies to treat and prevent metastatic breast cancer.

Progress Thus Far

Drs. Tsarfaty and Graveel found that by activating distinct signals, MET promotes motility of breast tumor cells and in turn, metastasis. The team has also identified several mechanisms by which MET can drive metabolic reprogramming in tumors. In addition, they are using novel laboratory models of breast cancers with activated MET and p53 and BRCA1—other cancer-promoting genes—to identify “modifier genes” that influence breast cancer risk and prognosis. To understand which breast cancer patients will benefit from therapeutically targeting MET, the team tested MET inhibitors in breast cancer models, revealing prognostic indicators for tumors that are sensitive or resistant to MET inhibition. Lastly, they discovered that the tumor suppressor gene NF1 is altered in 25 percent of human breast cancers and may be an important genetic driver of breast cancer initiation and hormone resistance.

What’s next

In the upcoming year, Drs. Tsarfaty and Graveel will continue their work to understand MET-induced cell motility in cancer progression. The team will also continue to identify and validate “modifier genes” of MET, p53, and BRCA1 that induce breast cancer. Lastly, they will study the role of NF1 deficiency in promoting estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.


Dr. Ilan Tsarfaty received his BSc (1983), MSc (1986), and PhD (1990) from Tel Aviv University. From 1991-1994, he served as a postdoctoral research associate at the National Cancer Institute's Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center. He was a visiting scientist at the Van Andel Research Institute Grand Rapids, MI as a part of the Molecular Imaging Center University of Michigan (2001-2003). Dr. Tsarfaty has been a member of the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University since 1994.

He is the author of over 50 scientific research articles and over 10 books chapters. Dr. Tsarfaty cloned the gene of the breast cancer antigen Muc1 and showed its potential use as a marker for breast cancer. He was the first to show that the Met tyrosine kinase growth factor receptor is involved in tubule formation in mammary tubule and in mesenchymal epithelial cell conversion.

Dr. Tsarfaty was the first to show that Met is a prognostic factor for breast cancer patients. He also showed that HGF/SF alters metabolic activity by induction of Mimp a novel gene that is involved in metastasis that was cloned and characterize in Dr. Tsarfaty's lab. Dr. Tsarfaty has been leading an effort to develop noninvasive breast tumor molecular imaging modalities as a powerful tool in understanding the metabolic activity induced by Met signal transduction. This technology enhances definition of tumor margins and may allow earlier detection of smaller tumor and small metastatic lesions. Currently, Dr. Tsarfaty's lab is in the process of understanding the physical, cellular, and molecular mechanism of Met induced motility leading to embryo development and metastasis.

BCRF Investigator Since