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Michael F. Clarke, MD

Karel and Abice Beekhuis Endowed Professor
Professor of Internal Medicine
Associate Director, Stem and Regenerative Medicine Institute
Stanford University
Stanford, California

Current Research

  • Seeking to understand the role of cancer stem cells on tumor cell dormancy and cancer recurrence.

  • Analysis of patient samples is ongoing to identify novel treatment strategies against breast cancer stem cells.

  • Effectively targeting cancer stem cells could markedly improve the outcome of patients with breast cancer.

Dr. Clarke's laboratory was the first to identify breast cancer stem cells, a minority population of cancer cells that are responsible for the growth and spread of breast cancer, a process called metastasis.  The cancer stem cell population is resistant to cancer therapies.

During the course of his BCRF research, Dr. Clarke identified two genes critical for cancer stem cell functions. One of the genes seems to predict whether patients with estrogen receptor-negative cancers will respond to chemotherapy. The second gene regulates normal stem cell dormancy. Tumor dormancy is an unpredictable length of time when hidden tumor cells exist quietly without clinical manifestation and is one of the most pressing problems in breast cancer.

Having analyzed tumor and clinical data from over 2000 breast cancer patients, Dr. Clarke's team found that tumors that express high levels of the dormancy gene are much more likely to recur. This dormancy gene appears to regulate tumor stem cell survival while sparing normal stem cells.

In the coming year, they will confirm this observation in patients treated with neoadjuvant therapy. Results will lead to identification of novel treatment strategies against breast cancer stem cells. Doing so has the potential to markedly improve the outcome of patients with breast cancer.


Michael Clarke, MD is a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. He is the Karel and Avice Beekhuis Professor in Cancer Biology and Associate Director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. His interest is in Stem Cell Biology. In addition to clinical duties in oncology, Dr. Clarke maintains a laboratory focused on two areas of research: i) the control of self-renewal of normal stem cells and diseases such as cancer and hereditary diseases; and ii) the identification and characterization of cancer stem cells. His laboratory is pursuing how perturbations in the self-renewal machinery contribute to human disease. His focus is to aid in the development of more effective treatment therapies for various forms of cancer.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Hamptons Paddle & Party for Pink Award

Area(s) of Focus