Charles M. Perou
Department of Genetics
Area of interest
My research interests span the disciplines of cancer biology, genomics, genetics, bioinformatics, statistics, systems biology, and the treatment of cancer patients in the clinic. A major contribution of mine to the field of Precision Medicine has been the genomic characterization of human tumors, which resulted in the discovery of the Intrinsic Subtypes of Breast Cancer. This gene expression-based classification was the first to identify the Basal-like/Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) subtype, which has been translated into a test that is being used in the breast cancer clinic worldwide. In combination with our studies on human tumor specimens, we also use model systems to identify the genetic and microenvironmental causes of Basal-like Breast Cancers, and then use this information to test novel targeted therapies for this clinically important subset of patients. Genomic-based classifications for other important cancer types including lung, head and neck, and ovarian cancers are also being developed.
The main experimental focus of the Perou Lab is on breast cancer, where we have demonstrated that breast tumors can be classified into five molecular subtypes. We are currently elucidating the genetic causes that give rise to each subtype, in part through our leadership of The Cancer Genome Atlas Breast Cancer Analysis Working Group. The experimental approaches currently being pursued on tumor specimens include RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq), DNA exome sequencing, Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), cell/tissue culturing, and Proteomics, with a special focus on the Basal-like/TNBC subtype. We are mimicking these human tumor alterations in Genetically Engineered Mouse Models, and also using primary tumor Patient-Derived Xenografts (PDXs), to investigate the efficacy of new drugs and drug combinations. All of these genomic and genetic studies generate large volumes of data; thus, a significant portion of my lab is devoted to using these data to create computational predictors of complex cancer phenotypes, in part based upon a systems biology approach, which will ultimately be applied in the clinic.
In addition, we have translated these molecular findings into a much wider human patient population. Specifically by using a North Carolina population-based study (i.e. the Carolina Breast Cancer Study, CBCS), we have found that pre-menopausal African American (AA) women are diagnosed with Basal-like Breast Cancers approximately twice as often as their Caucasian counterparts, and AAs also have fewer Luminal A breast cancers. These results provides a biological mechanism that can help to explain why there is a racial outcomes disparity in the USA between AAs and Caucasians; however, additional molecular and population-based studies are needed, and are currently underway (i.e. CBCS Phase III), which should allow us to more thoroughly understand these outcome differences.
I am a currently a Distinguished Professor of Genetics, and Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, and have been a faculty member at UNC since 2000. I am also the Faculty Co-Director of the LCCC Bioinformatics Group, and Co-Director of the LCCC Breast Cancer Research Program. I have authored more than 260 peer-reviewed articles, and am an inventor on four USA patents. I am a member of the AACR, ASCO, the ALLIANCE Breast Committee, and the Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium. My lab has received support from the NIH/NCI, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Komen Foundation, and V Foundation for Cancer Research. I have also co-founded two genomics-based biotechnology companies (BioClassifier LLC, and GeneCentric Diagnostics). I am actively seeking new graduate students, medical fellows, and postdocs and have opportunities available for both experimental and computational scientists.
Awards and Honors
AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research (2009)
Danaher Scientific & Medical Award, a Susan G. Komen Award (2011)
The May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor of Molecular Oncology at UNC (2011)
The European Institute of Oncology Breast Cancer Therapy Award (2012)
Hyman L. Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award from UNC (2013)
Thomson Reuters Most Highly Cited Researchers (Top 1% in Clinical Medicine) (2014)