New Faculty: Cancer Researcher Hisashi Tanaka

"I look forward to contributing to both the research and clinical programs," says Hisashi Tanaka, MD, PhD, an expert on DNA metabolism and genome instability.

Hisashi Tanaka, MD, PhD, has joined Cedars-Sinai as a research scientist in the Department of Surgery and the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. He will focus on breast cancer.

Previously, Tanaka was at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where he had been assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics since 2006.

In his new role at Cedars-Sinai, Tanaka will work in close collaboration with Armando E. Giuliano, MD, executive vice chair of the Department of Surgery for surgical oncology and a professor of surgery, and Xiaojiang Cui, PhD, a research scientist in the Cancer Institute and an associate professor of surgery.

Tanaka said he plans to leverage his knowledge of DNA metabolism — activities that produce and maintain genetic material — and genome instability, which involves mutations or rearrangements of this genetic material.

Genome instability plays an important role in breast cancer etiology, particularly in an aggressive subtype known as HER2-positive tumors, which carry an excess of the growth-promoting protein HER2 on cell surfaces, he explained. Part of this process involves gene amplification — the accumulation of particular genes in a cell through DNA rearrangements. Tanaka, a leader in this field of study, has developed a test that detects these abnormal DNA arrangements.

"We currently have a good idea of how HER2 undergoes gene amplification," Tanaka said. "If we can better understand the mechanisms, or pathophysiology, we will be able to interpret the clinical data in a more scientific way, which may open doors to better understanding of HER2-positive tumors from a mechanistic point of view."

At Cedars-Sinai, he added, "I want to further extend my research programs on DNA metabolism and genome instability in cancer. Using my strength in these areas, I look forward to contributing to both the research and clinical programs."

Tanaka said he made the decision to join Cedars-Sinai because of its "high standard of practice" and the opportunity to work in a research-focused position at a major clinical institution. "Armando Giuliano is a leading breast surgeon who has set the world standard for surgical operations. It is an honor to be working with him," he said.

Tanaka earned his MD and PhD degrees from the Kyoto University School of Medicine in Japan. He completed his postdoctoral studies at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

"Hisashi Tanaka is a peer-reviewed, funded investigator who adds to our growing science portfolio in breast cancer biology, " said Steven Piantadosi, MD, PhD, director of the Cancer Institute. "Because of the large number of breast cancer patients that we see each year, we have a great opportunity to address important therapeutic and basic research questions and ultimately offer improved treatment based on the latest research findings. Tanaka helps us accomplish that."