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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.

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.

The goals of this project are to: 1) characterize the types of microRNAs that are present in the exosomes of breast cancer patients, 2) determine how they drive breast cancer progression, and 3) determine whether these circulating microRNAs could be used as biomarkers for the detection and classification of breast cancer.

Using deep-sequencing technologies, Drs. Tavazoie and Comen have discovered exosomal microRNAs and free microRNAs that circulate in the blood of women with breast cancer and at least one microRNA that is abundant in the blood of women with metastatic breast cancer. They have been accruing patients for a prospective study to determine if they can non-invasively identify breast cancer patients

In the upcoming year, the team will validate the prognostic and diagnostic value of exosomal and free microRNAs in a prospective cohort of 100 women and determine if such a blood marker can identify women with breast cancer and also identify those with breast cancer that is at high risk for metastatic relapse.

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.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Lampert Foundation Award

Area(s) of Focus