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Sohail Tavazoie, MD, PhD

Leon Hess Associate Professor
Head, Elizabeth and Vincent Meyer Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology
Senior Attending Physician
The Rockefeller University
Assistant Attending Physician, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
New York, New York

Current Research

  • Seeking to develop a blood-based test that can accurately detect and classify breast cancers.
  • Studies are ongoing to validate a biomarker to detect breast cancer and identify women at risk of breast cancer.
  • This work may lead to a non-invasive screening tool that can to save lives with early interventions.

Tumors release many factors into the blood and these factors can be used to detect progression of disease. Drs. Tavazoie and Comen are conduction studies of circulating tumor markers in the blood of breast cancer patients to understand how they drive breast cancer progression, and to develop biomarkers for the detection and classification of breast cancer. They hope that these studies will lead to a blood-based diagnostic test that will identify women at risk of metastasis and reduce the need for invasive tissue biopsies. 

Full Research Summary

Exosomes are circulating particles released by cells that contain cellular content including proteins and genetic material. Research has revealed that tumor-derived exosomes can spread throughout the body via the bloodstream and ultimately fuse with non-cancerous cells in distant organs.

Drs. Tavazoie and Comen are interested in a specific cellular material contained in tumor-derived exosomes called microRNA. MicroRNAs play multiple roles in controlling how genes are turned on and off, and the researchers believe that the microRNA found in tumor-derived exosomes may be informative about breast cancer progression.

Using deep-sequencing technologies, the research team identified a metastasis (Met) micro-RNA signature that enabled them to separate the majority of patients with metastatic breast cancer from patients with local tumors or benign breast diseases. 

They also discovered a metastasis-risk (Met-risk) micro-RNA signature that, in combination with the Met signature, identified the majority of patients with metastatic breast cancer and a small group of non-metastatic breast cancer patients that are predicted to be at risk of developing metastasis. 

In the upcoming year, they will refine the identified signatures and validate the prognostic and diagnostic value of cell-free microRNAs by recruiting an additional 120 age-, ethnicity-, and subtype-matched women to their study.

Predictive exosomal microRNAs could guide clinical management by informing clinicians about the likelihood of whether or not a suspicious breast mass found on mammography represents breast cancer. Moreover, exosomal microRNAs could inform clinicians of the likelihood that a malignant cancer will metastasize or respond to chemotherapeutic and targeted agents.


Sohail Tavazoie graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and completed an MD-PhD program at Harvard-MIT, followed by residency training in Internal Medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital at Harvard and medical oncology and postdoctoral fellowship training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In 2009, he was recruited to The Rockefeller University as Head of the Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology. In addition to his laboratory work, Dr. Tavazoie is an attending medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

His laboratory studies the roles that small-RNAs play in regulating cancer metastasis. Small-RNAs, also called microRNAs, have the ability to block the expression of genes. During his postdoctoral work in Joan Massague’s laboratory at MSKCC, Dr. Tavazoie discovered the first set of non-coding RNAs that act as suppressors of metastasis. These small RNAs were found to be shut off in breast tumors of patients that metastasized. His lab at The Rockefeller University has shown that each of these small-RNAs block the expression of distinct sets of genes that enable breast cancer cells to metastasize. These genes were found to enhance the invasive capacity of breast cancer cells as well as their ability to recruit endothelial cells. His laboratory studies the mechanisms by which these small-RNAs and the genes they regulate control metastasis. By better understanding the molecular pathways that govern metastatic progression, he hopes to enable the development of novel therapeutics that prevent the formation and progression of breast cancer metastasis.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Tavazoie S

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Lampert Foundation Award

Area(s) of Focus