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Kivanc Birsoy, PhD

Assistant Professor
Head, Laboratory of Metabolic Regulation and Genetics
The Rockefeller University
New York, New York
American Association for Cancer Research

Current Research

  • Seeking to identify novel targets for treatment of drug resistant breast cancers.

  • Laboratory studies are conducted to study the role of aspartate in tumor cell metabolism and evaluate a targeted approach as a potential treatment strategy for aggressive tumors.

  • These studies may inform the development of new targeted approaches to improve outcomes for patients with advanced breast cancer.

The metabolism of cancer cells is different than that of normal adult cells. Cancer cells, as a result of their genetic alterations, become “nutrient addicted” and cannot survive in the absence of these nutrients. Removing such nutrients has the potential to disrupt cancer cell survival without affecting normal cells, thus providing a powerful intervention to prevent tumor growth. Dr. Birsoy has identified the amino acid, aspartate, as a key nutrient for cancer cells to survive in low-oxygen conditions–a common scenario in the tumor environment. His laboratory studies are aimed at leveraging this information to identify strategies to prevent this metabolic adaptation and make tumor cells more sensitive to anti-cancer drugs.

Full Research Summary

Unlike normal cells in our body, cancer cells live in nutrient and oxygen poor (hypoxic) environments in tumors. Tumors that can survive these normally life threatening conditions tend to be more aggressive and resistant to radiotherapy. 
Targeting hypoxia is an attractive strategy for cancer therapy, because healthy cells cannot live in these conditions. How cancer cells adapt to the hypoxia and whether this adaptation could be used for therapy is not well understood.
Dr. Birsoy's lab has recently discovered that an amino acid called aspartate is required for the tumor cell’s metabolism. He will employ innovative genetic and metabolomic technologies in elaborate studies aimed at identifying key processes in tumor cell metabolism and the role of aspartate in the adaptive response to hypoxia in cancer cells.
A major goal of the study is to determine aspartate metabolism can be targeted for therapy in aggressive and drug resistant tumors.


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.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Birsoy Kivanc

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Blizzard Entertainment Award

Area(s) of Focus