Explore the Translational Research Laboratory


The Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center is committed to advancing oncology care by tailoring treatment options to the individual cancer patient. The basic mission of the Translational Research Laboratory is to provide rapid personalized genomic testing as an important component of routine care, thereby minimizing generalizations made in treatment decisions. Identifying the right drugs based on susceptible molecular alterations offers the hope of improving cancer treatment success on a case-by-case basis. Our focus is to work closely with clinicians to bring personalized medicine to the forefront of patient care, in a manner that assures the highest quality standards. Recent experience has provided proof-of-principle for this approach in selected patients and tumor types, and the number of cases in which this approach will be helpful is expected to grow.

The Cancer Center and Pathology Department have jointly developed this laboratory as a culmination of our experiences integrating clinical research with patient care. Emphasis is placed on the pursuit of institutional collaborations, where pathologists, oncologists and basic scientists work closely together. Innovative research tools are used to incorporate basic research findings into improved patient care. Clinical observations that arise from these integrated approaches guide research in new directions, providing the cornerstone of advanced translational research. Incorporating the diverse expertise of distinguished members of our scientific and clinical community, across all cancer disease centers, assures that the most important findings and approaches are integrated into the front lines of patient care.

A strategy that is currently being explored to maximize efficacy of novel therapies in clinical trials is enrollment of patients based on an underlying genetic fingerprint that is most likely to compliment the drug’s actions. The Translational Research Laboratory is working to develop prescreening assays to identify the most relevant patient group and reduce the use of therapies that have little chance of success in a particular individual. Such a genotype-directed approach also has the advantage of extending access across cancer types, regardless of tumor location or cancer rarity.

Facilities & Equipment

The Translational Research Laboratory is located on the main hospital campus. We have incorporated the latest technologies to offer moderate- to high-throughput tumor genotyping analyses that reveal mutations in critical cancer genes, abnormalities in cancer gene copy number and structural gene alterations. Emphasis is placed on specific abnormalities that are critical to sustaining and driving the carcinogenic process, thereby providing rationale for incorporating a new generation of targeted therapeutic interventions.


We are working to make this new approach available to as many patients as possible. Because of the complexity of this work, at this time we only have the capacity to test patients seen at Mass General, and only once their Mass General physician has determined that such tumor testing might be of value for the patient's care. There may be many patients for whom the testing is not yet useful because the new medicines that may work against certain molecular abnormalities are not yet available. 

Group Members

In order to effectively integrate molecular oncology with patient care , our multidisciplinary leadership team represents broad expertise in pathology, oncology and laboratory science.

Co-Executive Directors:

  • Leif W. Ellisen, MD, PhD
    Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
    Associate Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • A. John Iafrate, MD, PhD
    Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School
    Assistant Pathologist, Massachusetts General Hospital


  • Darrell Borger, PhD
    Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School
    Assistant in Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Dora Dias-Santagata, PhD
    Instructor in Pathology, Harvard Medical School
    Assistant in Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital


  • Tammy Smith

Laboratory Manager:

  • Kathy Vernovsky, MS

Laboratory Technicians:

  • Lindsay Bernardo
  • Taylor Johnson
  • Jae Han
  • Hector Lopez
  • Quynh Lam
  • Daniel Lara
  • Amanda Pawlak


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