The May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor of Molecular Oncology
Department of Genetics
Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
Fields 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, and has been translated into a test that is being used in breast cancer clinics worldwide. In combination with our studies on human tumor specimens, we also use model systems to identify the genetic and micro-environmental causes of the Intrinsic Subtypes of Breast Cancers, and then use this information to test novel targeted therapies. Genomic-based classifications for other cancer types, including lung, head and neck, melanoma and ovarian cancers are also being studied.
The main experimental focus of the Perou Lab is breast cancer, where we have demonstrated that breast tumors can be classified into five molecular “intrinsic” subtypes. We are currently elucidating the genetic causes that give rise to each subtype, in part through our work on The Cancer Genome Atlas Breast Cancer Project. The experimental approaches currently used on tumor specimens include RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq), DNA exome sequencing, whole genome sequencing (WGS), single-cell RNA-seq, 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, which are based, in part, upon a systems biology approach, and 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 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 better understand these outcome differences.
I am a Professor in the Department of Genetics, in the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, and have been a faculty member at UNC since 2000. I am also the Faculty Director of the LCCC Bioinformatics Group, and Co-Director of the LCCC Breast Cancer Research Program. I have authored more than 330 peer-reviewed articles, and am an inventor on five USA and European 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, Susan G. Komen, and V Foundation for Cancer Research, and have co-founded two genomics-based biotechnology companies (BioClassifier LLC, and GeneCentric Therapeutics). I am actively seeking new graduate students, medical fellows, and postdocs and have opportunities available for experimental and computational scientists.
Awards and Honors
Ruth and Phillip Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement from UNC (2006)
AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research (2009)
Danaher Scientific & Medical Award from the Susan G. Komen (2011)
The European Institute of Oncology Breast Cancer Therapy Award (2012)
Hyman L. Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award from UNC (2013)
Jill Rose Award for Distinguished Biomedical Research from the BRCF (2016)
Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Research from the Susan G. Komen (2016)
Thomson Reuters Most Highly Cited Researchers (Top 1% in Clinical Medicine) (2014-16)