California Pacific CURRENTS: The online journal of CPMC Research Institute

glial cells

Uncontrolled growth of glial cells, shown in blue around the large yellow-green neurons, can lead to malignant brain gliomas.



Increasing evidence points to the complexity of cancer as not just one illness, but a set of illnesses characterized by genetic abnormalities and uncontrolled cell growth. To better understand this complexity and overcome some of the challenges associated with existing cancer therapies, researchers at CPMC are developing and testing novel combination, targeted therapies against metastatic and aggressive tumors including melanomas, breast cancers, and glioblastomas (brain cancer).

By investigating the molecular and genetic pathways underlying the development and progression of cancer, this research will help lead to more personalized treatments customized to each patient and their response to medications.

The Research Institute began an innovative program to further our cancer precision medicine research through the Cancer Avatar Project—a living biology approach to translational research for fully individualized cancer care. Our cancer scientists are working with CPMC oncologists and surgeons to create cell culture and mouse models, or ‘avatars’, of patients’ tumors, which will give oncologists key information about how well a patient’s tumor might respond to a particular chemotherapy regimen.

Learn about clinical cancer research at CPMCRI.

Find cancer clinical trials.

Investigators and Research Areas

Cancer Avatar Project

Shanaz Dairkee, Ph.D.
Altaf Dar, Ph.D.
David De Semir, Ph.D.
Pierre Desprez, Ph.D.
Mohammed Kashani-Sabet, M.D., and Lab Manager Mehdi Nosrati
Sean McAllister, Ph.D.
Michael Rowbotham, M.D.
Liliana Soroceanu, Ph.D.
Gregory James Tranah, Ph.D.

Brain Tumors

Role of cytomegalovirus in the development of malignant glioma, and therapeutic resistance in gliomas
Liliana Soroceanu, Ph.D.


Breast Cancer Disease Progression

Cellular and molecular changes during the early stages of breast cancer progression
Shanaz Dairkee, Ph.D.

Role of ID-1 in metastatic breast cancer
Pierre Desprez, Ph.D.

Role of dystroglycan in metastatic breast cancer
John Muschler, Ph.D.

Cancer Epidemiology, and Statistical Models
Esther Wei, Sc.D.


Complementary & Integrative Medicine

Molecular and genetic evaluations of herbs and mind-body modalities as cancer therapy
Garret Yount, Ph.D.


Drug Development

Creating cultured cells for cancer drug development
Shanaz Dairkee, PhD.

Cancer and cannabinoids
Sean McAllister, Ph.D.

Novel compounds for the treatment of metastatic cancer
Li-Xi Yang, M.D.


Gene Therapy

Development of safe and effective therapies to correct cancer-causing genes
Robert Debs, M.D.



Development of diagnostic techniques for malignant melanoma
Altaf Dar, Ph.D.
David De Semir, Ph.D.
Mohammed Kashani-Sabet, M.D.