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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

Goal: To understand the role of cancer stem cells on tumor cell dormancy, cancer recurrence and metastasis.

Impact: Dr. Clarke is studying cancer stem cells – the cells that are responsible for relapse and metastases. His team is searching for ways to eliminate cancer stem cells to improve the outcome of breast cancer patients.

What’s next: In the next year, Dr. Clarke’s team will develop novel breast cancer therapeutic agents and identify biomarkers that can predict which patients are at high risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Despite advances in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer, many patients will experience a recurrence over their lifetimes, sometimes years after the treatment of their primary cancer. Breast cancer stem cells are thought to be the drivers of recurrence because of their ability to survive cancer therapy and lie dormant for many years. Dr. Clarke is investigating ways to target these cells and is now making small molecule drugs that may eliminate breast cancer stem cells while sparing normal stem cells.

Full Research Summary

Research area: Effectively targeting breast cancer stem cells—which are thought to be the drivers of recurrence—in order to improve patient outcomes.

Impact: 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 (metastasis). Cancer stem cells are resistant to cancer therapies and can remain dormant for many years after treatment. Dr. Clarke is now analyzing tumor and clinical data with the aim of discovering ways to target these cells that would reduce the risk of recurrence and the number of breast cancer deaths.

Current research. His current research builds on previous work to identify biomarkers that can predict whether a patient is at risk of relapse. His ongoing efforts are aimed at generating novel therapeutic agents to target breast cancer stem cells while minimizing side effects.

What he’s learned so far: Dr. Clarke’s laboratory has been searching for a way to eliminate cancer stem cells for more than 10 years. His team recently identified a promising drug target that appears to regulate tumor stem cell survival while sparing normal stem cells. 

What’s next: He and has team have begun to make small molecule drugs that target cancer cells without harming normal stem cells. The goal for the coming year is to continue these efforts towards testing new agents in clinical trials. 


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.

Grid Reasercher Headshot - Clarke Michael

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Women's Cancer Research Fund Award