Paz Polak, PhD
Research Topics:Bioinformatics, Breast Cancer, Cancer, Cancer Genetics, DNA Repair, Diversity, Genetics, Genomics, Global Health, Mathematical and Computational Biology
Cancer genome studies typically focus on the foreground—the genes in the tumor itself that are mutated and that are likely to be important in driving cancer. However, the background, or tumor environment, is an important component of cancer that can serve as a powerful biomarker for the success of treatments as well as development of preventive interventions. Characterizing the complex features of the tumor environment can improve discovery of cancer genes and reveal the architecture of mutational processes. Findings from this research can help identify patients who may benefit from specific treatments and therapies such as PARP inhibitors and immunotherapies. Unfortunately, most genomic studies to date of both the tumor and the tumor environment have lacked representation from populations of diverse ethnicity, and findings are therefore not necessarily applicable across all population groups.
At Mount Sinai, my lab studies cancer driver events and cancer etiology across understudied populations (e.g. African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Haitians) with the goals of lowering death rates from cancer and improving overall health. These studies build upon my previous research that has revealed the complex interplay between mutations in DNA repair genes like BRCA1, BRCA2, RAD51C, ERCC2, POLE, MLH1, and MSH2, and the mutational landscape of cancer. Most importantly, this research will enable us to examine if current and future genomic assays give similar results across all populations and, if not, tailor assays accordingly to identify the most effective, personalized treatment for each patient.
My lab will also focus on understanding the contributions of physical activity and exercise to general health by utilizing different genomic approaches to assess fitness levels and changes during exercise. Physical activity and nutrition are known to be highly effective at preventing disease and improving outcomes for cancer patients. However, little is known about the actual mechanisms.