Haigis Lab

The Haigis laboratory studies how mutations in different members of the Ras family of oncogenes contribute to colorectal cancer.

Kevin M. Haigis, PhD

Assistant Molecular Pathologist
Massachusetts General Hospital

Assistant Professor of Pathology
Harvard Medical School

Research Interests

Ras mutations occur in almost half of all colorectal cancers and are strong predictors of a poor therapeutic response. We have developed mouse models of colorectal cancer that are driven by various mutations in K-Ras and N-Ras, and we are using these models for preclinical testing of new therapies. Our translational work focuses on how K-Ras mutations affect the way patients with rectal cancer respond to radiation therapy. Our laboratory also combines biochemical analyses of protein signaling with mathematical modeling—an approach known as systems biology—to understand the relationships between disruption of signaling pathways and chronic diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease and certain neurodegenerative conditions.

Read more about the Haigis Lab from the Center for Cancer Research Annual Report. and the Pathology Basic Science Research Brochure.


Mass General Cancer Center logoPathology logo and research brochure


updated 4/22/2013


Content Updated 4/2011

  • Kevin M. Haigis, PhD
  • Ken Lau, PhD
  • Yufang Wang, PhD
  • Moon Hee Yang
  • Krystle Kendall, BS

Research Projects

Cancer Biology

Activating mutations in the K-Ras and B-Raf oncoproteins are common in human colon cancers. Regardless of the well-established connection between K-Ras and B-Raf mutations and colon cancer progression, the molecular mechanisms underlying this association are poorly characterized. We have recently developed a novel mouse model of colon cancer that relies on mutationally activated K-Ras expressed in the context of an Apc-mutant colonic tumor (Haigis et al., Submitted). As an extension of these studies, our immediate goals are (1) to understand how activated K-Ras and B-Raf contribute to malignant progression in the colon, (2) to decipher the complex network of downstream signals that mediate their oncogenic phenotypes, and (3) to establish whether mutations in these oncogenes determine sensitivity to specific therapeutics. We are addressing these issues through the use of mice genetically engineered to express mutationally activated forms of K-Ras and/or B-Raf. Our driving hypothesis is that mutant K-Ras locks Apc-mutant colon cancer cells in a stem-like state, in the process conferring resistance to therapies that would otherwise promote differentiation. A major question is whether mutant K-Ras exerts unique phenotypic effects in the presence of distinct tumor-initiating mutations, and whether this can affect the response of colonic cancers to therapy. In parallel to our studies on K-Ras, we are analyzing the phenotypic effects of activated B-Raf in the colon epithelium. Are mutations in K-Ras and B-Raf functionally equivalent or do these molecules have unique oncogenic properties?

Systems Biology

We are also exploring the relationship between Ras signaling, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and colon cancer. Compared to its closely related family members K-Ras and H-Ras, the function of N-Ras is poorly understood. To dissect the function of N-Ras in vivo, we have generated mice that express mutationally activated N-Ras specifically in the intestinal epithelium. Our preliminary analyses suggest that N-Ras is unique among the Ras family members in its ability to regulate p53-independent apoptosis. We surmise that the pathways that are regulated by N-Ras may be important in certain diseases that are characterized by abnormally high rates of apoptosis, for example IBD. Inflammation-induced apoptosis of the intestinal epithelium is a hallmark of IBD and there are currently no effective treatments for this chronic and debilitating condition, which affects over 1 million Americans. We are using the inflammation-induced apoptosis that occurs during IBD as a paradigm to study N-Ras function. We predict that a thorough understanding of N-Ras function, and by extension its downstream effector pathways, will lead to the identification of novel molecular targets for more effective IBD therapies.

Read about and apply for residency, fellowship and observership programs at

Apply for temporary positions (summer interns)  through the Bulfinch Temporary Service Web site at Search for all opportunities using ID# 2200484.

All applicants should register with the Mass General Careers Web site at

Bibliography of Kevin M. Haigis via PubMed

Cancer biology

  1. Li Q, Haigis KM, McDaniel A, Harding-Theobald E, Kogan SC, Akagi K, Wong JC, Braun BS, Wolff L, Jacks T, Shannon K. Hematopoiesis and leukemogenesis in mice expressing oncogenic NrasG12D from the endogenous locus. Blood. 2011 Feb 10;117(6):2022-32.
  2. Haigis KM, Kendall KR, Wang Y, Cheung A, Haigis MC, Glickman JN, Niwa- Kawakita M, Sweet-Cordero A, Sebolt- Leopold J, Shannon KM, Settleman J, Giovannini M, Jacks T. Differential effects of oncogenic K-Ras and N-Ras on proliferation, differentiation and tumor progression in the colon. Nat Genet. 2008 May;40(5):600-8.
  3. Haigis KM, Dove WF. A Robertsonian translocation suppresses a somaticrecombination pathway to loss of heterozygosity. Nat Genet. 2003 Jan;33(1):33-9.

Systems biology

  1. Lau KS, Juchheim AM, Cavaliere KR, Philips SR, Lauffenburger DA, Haigis KM. In vivo systems analysis identifies spatial and temporal aspects of the modulation of TNF-α-induced apoptosis and proliferation by MAPKs. Sci Signal. 2011 Mar 22;4(165):ra16. Kreeger PK, Wang Y, Haigis KM, Lauffenburger DA. Integration of multiple signaling pathway activities resolves K-RAS/N-RAS mutation paradox in colon epithelial cell response to inflammatory cytokine stimulation. Integr Biol (Camb). 2010 Apr 7;2(4):202-8.
  2. Kreeger PK, Mandhana R, Alford SK, Haigis KM, Lauffenburger DA. RAS mutations affect tumor necrosis factor-induced apoptosis in colon carcinoma cells via ERK-modulatory negative and positive feedback circuits along with non-ERK pathway effects. Cancer Res. 2009 Oct 15;69(20):8191-9.
  3. Kreeger PK, Mandhana R, Alford SK, Haigis KM, Lauffenburger DA. RAS mutations affect tumor necrosis  actor-induced apoptosis in colon carcinoma cells via ERK-modulatory negative and positivefeedback circuits along with non-ERK pathway effects. Cancer Res. 2009 Oct 15;69(20):8191-9.