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Kivanc Birsoy, PhD
Head, Laboratory of Metabolic Regulation and Genetics
The Rockefeller University
New York, New York
American Association for Cancer Research
Goal: To improve breast cancer outcomes by identifying new targets for difficult-to-treat cancers.
Impact: Tumor cells require a lot of energy to support their rapid growth. Dr. Birsoy has found a way to use this high energy requirement to precisely target cancer cells. His work could improve treatments for patients with aggressive breast cancer.
What’s next: Dr. Birsoy will continue his studies to understand the cancer cell’s dependence on the amino acid aspartate, an essential component in energy production, with the goal of identifying novel strategies for cancer treatment.
As tumors grow, they need energy to support the many processes required for growth. Normal energy production requires oxygen, but most tumors evolve in oxygen-starved conditions. In order to survive, they become dependent on alternative energy sources. Dr. Birsoy’s research has shown that tumor cells depend on aspartate when oxygen is low. His current studies are focused on identifying ways to leverage this aspartate addiction to selectively kill cancer cells.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Discovering new targets for cancer treatment that target tumor cell metabolism.
Impact: Aggressive breast cancers have high energy needs but are often starved of oxygen because of the lack of blood supply. Instead, cancer cells find ways to change their metabolism. By altering their need for oxygen, cancer cells are able to survive conditions that would kill normal cells, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy. While this gives them a survival advantage it also makes them uniquely dependent on this altered metabolism. Dr. Birsoy’s American Association for Cancer Research project, supported by BCRF, is focused on identifying strategies to leverage the cancer cell dependency on the amino acid aspartate, to improve treatments for patients with aggressive breast cancer.
Current research: Dr. Birsoy is using sophisticated laboratory methods to understand how tumor cells alter their metabolism to survive in low oxygen conditions and anti-cancer therapies with the goal of identifying targeted therapies for aggressive and drug resistant cancers.
What he’s learned so far: Dr. Birsoy studied a variety of cancer cell lines to determine that cancer cells need the amino acid, aspartate, to grow and survive in conditions of low oxygen (hypoxia).
What’s next: There are close to 3000 metabolites in the human blood and Dr. Birsoy aims to use innovative genetic and metabolomic tools to understand whether there are other, unidentified, metabolic requirements of tumor cells.
Kivanc Birsoy received his undergraduate degree in Molecular Genetics from Bilkent University in 2004 and his Ph.D. from Rockefeller University in 2009, where he studied molecular genetics of obesity in the laboratory of Jeffrey Friedman. In 2010, he joined the laboratory of David Sabatini at the Whitehead Institute. There, he combined forward genetics and metabolomics approaches to understand how different cancer types rewire their metabolism to adapt nutrient deprived environments. In 2016, he joined the Rockefeller faculty as Chapman-Perelman Assistant Professor and head of laboratory of Metabolic Regulation and Genetics.
BCRF Investigator Since