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Robert West, MD, PhD

Stanford University

Stanford, California

Titles and Affiliations

Professor of Pathology
Director of the Laboratory of Immunohistochemistry
Stanford University
Stanford, California

Research area

Identifying early events in the development of triple-negative breast cancer that will inform new prevention strategies.


Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive form of breast cancer with limited treatment options. Because of its aggressive nature, it has been difficult to study during the early, precancerous, stages of the disease. Dr. West’s team is utilizing technologies they have developed to identify changes to DNA in precancerous cells, as well as changes in the neighboring tissue that may promote development of invasive cancer. They will look back at different snapshots in time to understand how TNBC develops at the molecular level. Understanding events that happen during the transition from benign tissue to malignant cancer may identify strategies for both screening and prevention. Such findings are critical in creating successful prevention strategies for this aggressive disease.

Progress thus far

Dr. West and colleagues have developed approaches for studying small samples of tissue, approaches they are employing to study archived tissue from benign breast disease, called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), matched to tissue from TNBC in the same patient. In year two of the three-year study, he and his BCRF collaborator, Dr. Graham Colditz have made significant progress on their analysis of pre-malignant lesions, creating a large dataset of DNA, RNA, and protein data for these samples. In early analysis, they have uncovered new information that advances our understanding of the relationships between benign breast disease and TNBC.

What’s next

The overall goal of the study is to identify clonal (emerging from a single cell) similarities between the precursor lesion and the TNBC lesion in order to determine the early events in the breast and individual cells that led to the development of TNBC. This work is part of BCRF’s Precision Prevention Initiative.


Dr. West received his MD and PhD Washington University in St. Louis and completed clinical training at Stanford University Medical Center. He is now a Professor of Pathology at Stanford University Medical Center. Dr. West’s research focuses on translational studies of breast cancer combining genomic approaches with anatomic pathology. His lab has developed spatially-oriented, in situ methods to study archival specimens.

His research interest is in the progression of breast neoplasia to invasive carcinoma. The goal is to understand the molecular steps of progression to breast cancer and their etiology and to use this knowledge to better predict the outcome of ductal carcinoma in situ and to generate novel prevention strategies.

BCRF Investigator Since