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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.

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 Bowers are studying the biological pathways that link psychological stress and breast cancer outcomes, with a focus on the nervous and immune systems.

Inflammation can worsen many of the hallmark characteristics of cancer and has been associated with poor breast cancer outcomes. The team recently showed that breast cancer survivors who show greater activation in reward-related brain regions  have lower levels of inflammation. This year, the team will extend these findings and define the impact of these brain-immune system interactions on tumor biology. 

Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will undergo imaging of their brain to examine brain activity in response to different stimuli. Tumor biopsy and blood will be analyzed for immune markers, particularly the expression of genes linked to inflammation.  With data from the brain, the immune system and the tumor, the researchers hope to characterize the psychological/neural profiles of women with more “risky” tumors, laying the groundwork for targeted interventions. 

These approaches will provide new information on a possible strategy to target the tumor microenvironment to improve breast cancer outcomes.


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.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Clinique Award

Area(s) of Focus