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Steven W. Cole, PhD

Associate Professor
Division of Hematology-Oncology
David Geffen School of Medicine
University of California
Los Angeles, California

Current Research

  • Seeking to understand the links between psychological stress and inflammation in breast cancer.
  • Analysis of tumor tissue, blood and brain activity is conducted to explore the impact of stress on tumor biology.
  • This work will provide novel insights into the potential effect of psychological stress on tumor growth, progression and recurrence.
A breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can cause many forms of stress on a patient. Psychological stress causes the release of chemicals that activate the immune system resulting in inflammation. Drs. Cole and Bower are conducting studies to understand how stress-induced inflammation influences breast cancer outcomes.

Full Research Summary

Psychological stress activates the stress-response system in the brain, leading to release of hormones that influence the immune system and activate inflammation pathways. Drs. Cole and Bower are studying the biological pathways that link psychological stress and breast cancer outcomes, with a focus on the nervous and immune systems.

In the last year, they found that breast tumors from women experiencing high levels of social isolation showed increased activity of genes involved in inflammation and tumor metastasis. Inflammation can worsen many of the hallmark characteristics of cancer and has been associated with poor breast cancer outcomes. 

Over the next year they will conduct a more rigorous test of the association of social isolation and markers of stress in breast cancer patients participating in a clinical trial. Long-term follow-up of the patients will allow the researchers to determine whether stress-related tumor characteristics are associated with differences in clinical outcomes.  In addition, the trial included women with different subtypes of breast cancer, some of which may be more susceptible to any negative effects of stress.

The goal of the study is to see if the effect of stress related to social isolation is more relevant for particular types of breast tumors, and ultimately, to identify new targets for intervention to improve outcomes for women with breast cancer.


Steven Cole is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology-Oncology at the UCLA School of Medicine. His research maps the molecular pathways by which social and environmental factors influence the activity of human, viral, and tumor genomes. He pioneered the use of functional genomics approaches in social and behavioral research, and has mapped the signal transduction pathways by which social factors enhance replication of viruses (e.g., HIV-1 and HHV-8), alter expression of immune response genes (e.g., IL-6 and Interferon-beta), and up-regulate expression of pro-metastatic genes by human breast and ovarian cancer cells. His research uses computational modeling strategies to identify transcription factors that mediate socio-environmental influences on gene expression and genetic polymorphisms that modify those effects to create Gene x Environment interactions. Dr. Cole is member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Norman Cousins Center, the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute, and the NCI Network on Biobehavioral Pathways in Cancer, and he holds a joint appointment in UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences.

Grid Reasercher Headshot - Cole Stephen

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Estée Lauder Companies' Brands Award in memory of Evelyn H. Lauder

Area(s) of Focus