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W. Fraser Symmans, MD

Professor of Pathology
Director of Research Operations
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, Texas

Current Research

  • Seeking to improve outcomes in breast cancer by identifying patients at risk of recurrence.
  • Studies are ongoing to validate a multi-gene assay to predict response to therapy in triple negative and metastatic breast cancers.
  • This work will provide new tools to improve treatment decision making and outcomes for patients with aggressive and advanced breast cancers.

The goal of precision medicine is to deliver the right drug to the right patient at the right time. Being able to predict how a patient will respond to a therapy is fundamental to achieving this goal. Dr. Symmans has developed a gene-based assay that uses information from the patient’s tumor to determine how likely she is to experience a breast cancer recurrence so that her treatment is appropriate to her risk.

Full Research Summary

Dr. Symmans's work is focused on improving response to breast cancer therapies. He is particularly interested in identifying patients most likely to relapse after endocrine therapy or chemotherapy so that early decisions can be made about treatment options. He does this by looking for DNA mutations in breast tumor samples and then correlating the mutations with how well the patient responded to therapy.

From these efforts, Dr. Symmans and his colleagues have developed a multi-gene assay that was successful at predicting response to treatment in a small trial of triple negative breast cancers. They have successfully adapted this assay for testing of blood samples and verified that the assay can predict sensitivity to endocrine therapy in patients with Stage II or III primary breast cancer, and in patients with metastatic breast cancer.

They have developed another assay that they hope will predict benefit from a new class of targeted treatments for metastatic breast cancer. This year, they will test their new assay for clinical effectiveness.


Dr. Fraser Symmans is Professor and Director of Research Operations in the Department of Pathology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he practices Breast Surgical Pathology and Cytopathology and also directs the Breast Cancer Pharmacogenomics Laboratory. He received his medical degree from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, completed his residency at Columbia University, New York, and fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. Dr. Symmans joined the faculty of New York University Medical Center in 1993 and moved to MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2000. Dr. Symmans’ research is focused on breast cancer, with specific emphasis on neoadjuvant (pre-operative) treatment trials for evaluation of chemosensitivity and development of diagnostic tests to select the most effective treatments for individuals with breast cancer. This research program has led to the development of predictive molecular tests that are currently being evaluated in a prospective clinical trial. His other ongoing research is addressing the effects of biopsy sample quality on genomic test results in order to establish appropriate best practices for clinical diagnostic use. Additional responsibilities include: Co-Chair for the Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium, Director of Translational Research Program for the Alliance clinical trials group, and member of the Breast Cancer Steering Committee for the National Clinical Trials Group.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Symmans W

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Ulta Beauty Award

Area(s) of Focus