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Sandra Ryeom, PhD

Columbia University Irving Medical Center
New York, New York

Titles and Affiliations

Associate Professor, Department of Surgery
Associate Dean of Postdoctoral Affairs

Research area

Understanding the mechanism of metastasis to the lungs to identify new biomarkers and therapeutic targets to prevent it.


Metastatic disease is a multistep cascade and is the primary cause of death in patients with breast cancer. Metastatic cancer cells require a supportive extracellular matrix, or network of molecules organized outside the cell that contribute to the structural and mechanical properties of tissues, at the distant organs to allow for colonization. Remodeling of this extracellular matrix often occurs to foster the growth of cancer cells, but the mechanism is not well understood in the pre-metastatic niche. Since the lung is the most common site of metastases, Dr. Ryeom and her team are investigating the role of normal lung cells in the colonization of metastatic tumor cells. Specifically, they are interested in cells that line blood vessels called endothelial cells (ECs) and their role in the creation of a hospitable “soil” or pre-metastatic niche in the lung that allows tumor cells from the breast to survive, grow, and form metastatic tumors.

Progress Thus Far

Cancer cells secrete soluble factors that prepare distant organs for eventual cancer colonization. In Dr. Ryeom’s current research, she and her team focus on identifying unique factors secreted by breast cancer cells that activate lung ECs to promote colonization of cancer cells in the lung.

Dr. Ryeom and her team are using a protein abundantly expressed by ECs as a monitor for EC activation. When ECs are stimulated by tumor cells, they secrete this protein, and the team is monitoring the regulation of it in the presence of the components secreted by breast cancer cells. Additionally, this experiment will allow them to identify the factors secreted by breast cells that encourage EC activation.

What’s next

Once these factors are identified, the team will determine whether inhibiting them also inhibits breast cancer metastasis to the lung. They will use an experimental laboratory model to determine whether the development of lung metastases is delayed when they block EC activation. Dr Ryeom believes that these studies may lead to the development of imaging probes to identify pre-metastatic niches before breast cancer spreads and offer therapeutic targets to prevent their formation.


Sandra Ryeom, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery and the Division of Surgical Sciences at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She is also an Associate Dean of Postdoctoral Affairs and New Master’s Degree Programs. Dr. Ryeom’s research interests focus on understanding the role of endothelial cells and fibroblasts in the tumor microenvironment and in metastases. Dr. Ryeom completed her bachelor’s degree in physics from Wellesley College and doctoral degree in cell biology and genetics at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. Dr. Ryeom completed her training with a postdoctoral fellowship in cell biology at Harvard Medical School. She started her independent career at Children’s Hospital in Boston as an Instructor at Harvard Medical School followed by her move to the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine where she was a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Cancer Biology prior to her move to Columbia University Medical Center.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Garrett B. Smith Foundation/S. Arthur and Dorothy Neufeld Foundation Award

Areas of Focus

Metastasis Tumor Biology