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Lewis C. Cantley, PhD

Director, Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center,
Ronald P. Stanton Clinical Cancer Program at New York-Presbyterian
Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor in Oncology Research
Professor of Cancer Biology in Medicine
Weill Cornell Medical College
New York, New York

Current Research

Goal: To understand how diet may increase the effectiveness of breast cancer therapies.

Impact: Dr. Cantley has discovered ways in which insulin limits the effectiveness of a type of targeted therapy for breast cancer. They suspect that dietary interventions that regulate insulin may enhance the efficacy of these therapies. Combining these two approaches could improve response to targeted therapy in a greater number of breast cancer patients.

What’s next: He and his team will investigate how the ketogenic diet influences estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancers. They also plan to test whether a combination of the diet, PI3K inhibitors, and other types of drugs may work together to kill cancer cells in ER-positive breast cancers.

PI3K inhibitors are a promising type of targeted therapy for breast cancer. However, tumor cells can develop resistance to these drugs, limiting their benefit. Dr. Cantley is pursuing new approaches that may enhance the effectiveness of these drugs, with particular focus on the role of diet may play in overcoming resistance.

Full Research Summary

Research area: Identifying ways to enhance the effectiveness of targeted cancer therapies, with particular focus on dietary interventions.

Impact: Many types of PI3K inhibitors are currently being studied, but thus far their effectiveness has been limited. The challenge researchers face is that tumor cells have the ability to activate other means of growth that can render PI3K inhibitors ineffective. Dr. Cantley is studying a mechanism of resistance to these drugs, seen as a dramatic rise in serum insulin that reactivates PI3K in tumors. This work will inform the development of both pharmacologic and dietary strategies that could counteract this increase in insulin so that more patients may benefit from this promising targeted therapy.

Current investigation: Dr. Cantley and his team have been planning a clinical trial to evaluate whether combining the high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet with a PI3K inhibitor called copanlisib could enhance the drug’s effects.

What he’s learned so far: Dr. Cantley previously conducted a similar study in laboratory models that showed promising results, thus prompting him to launch this investigation.

What’s next: He and his team will investigate the role of the ketogenic diet in estrogen-driven breast cancers and how it alters the function of estrogen receptors. They also plan to test whether the ketogenic diet and a common anti-diabetic drug can synergize with PI3K inhibitors and anti-estrogen therapy to kill breast cancer cells that are driven by hormones.


Lewis C. Cantley, PhD, is the Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor and Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College/Ronald P. Stanton Clinical Cancer Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Cantley grew up in West Virginia and graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1971. He obtained a PhD in biophysical chemistry from Cornell University in 1975 and did postdoctoral training at Harvard University. Prior to taking the position at Weill Cornell, he taught and did research in biochemistry, physiology and cancer biology in Boston, most recently at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. His laboratory discovered the PI 3-Kinase pathway that plays a critical role in insulin signaling and in cancers.

Dr. Cantley was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2014, to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999. Among his other awards are the ASBMB Avanti Award for Lipid Research in 1998, the Heinrich Wieland Preis for Lipid Research in 2000, the Caledonian Prize from the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2002, the 2005 Pezcoller Foundation–AACR International Award for Cancer Research, the 2009 Rolf Luft Award for Diabetes and Endocrinology Research from the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, the 2011 Pasrow Prize for Cancer Research, the 2013 Breakthrough in Life Sciences Prize and the 2013 Jacobaeus Prize for Diabetes Research from the Karolinska Institute and the 2015 AACR Princess Takamatsu Memorial Lectureship.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Cantley L

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Estée Lauder Companies' Brands Award in Memory of Evelyn H. Lauder

Area(s) of Focus