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Charles M. Perou, PhD

The May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor of Molecular Oncology Professor, Genetics and  Pathology & Laboratory Medicine

Research Interests

Keywords: breast cancer research, cancer genetics, bioinformatics, genomics, epidemiology and clinical research

My research interests span the disciplines of cancer biology, genomics, genetics, bioinformatics, statistics, systems biology, and the treatment of cancer patients in the clinic. A major contribution of mine to the field of precision medicine has been the genomic characterization of human tumors, which resulted in the discovery of the Intrinsic Subtypes of Breast Cancer. This gene expression-based classification was the first to identify the Basal-like/Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) subtype, and has been translated into a test that is being used in breast cancer clinics worldwide. In combination with our studies on human tumor specimens, we also use model systems to identify the genetic and micro-environmental causes of the Intrinsic Subtypes of Breast Cancer and then use this information to test novel targeted therapies. Genomic-based classifications for other cancer types, including lung, head and neck, and ovarian cancers are also being developed.

The main experimental focus of the Perou Lab is on breast cancer, where we have demonstrated that breast tumors can be classified into five molecular subtypes. We are currently elucidating the genetic causes that give rise to each subtype, in part through our work on The Cancer Genome Atlas Breast Cancer Project. The experimental approaches currently being pursued on tumor specimens include RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq), single-cell RNA-seq, DNA exome sequencing, whole genome sequencing (WGS), cell/tissue culturing, and proteomics. We are mimicking these human tumor subtype specific alterations in genetically engineered mouse models, and also using primary tumor patient-derived xenografts (PDXs), to investigate the efficacy of new drugs and drug combinations. All of these genomic and genetic studies generate large volumes of data; thus, a significant portion of my lab is devoted to using these data to create computational predictors of complex cancer phenotypes, which are based, in part, upon a systems biology approach, and will ultimately be applied in the clinic.

Perou lab research image. A large rectangle with sections of green and red across different columns. The columns are labeled Luminal A, Luminal B, Claudin-low, Basil-like and HER2-enriched.

In addition, we have translated these molecular findings into a much wider human patient population. Specifically by using a North Carolina population-based study (i.e. the Carolina Breast Cancer Study, CBCS), we have found that pre-menopausal African American (AA) women are diagnosed with Basal-like Breast Cancers approximately twice as often as their Caucasian counterparts, and AAs also have fewer Luminal A breast cancers. These results provide a biological mechanism that can help explain why there is a racial outcomes disparity in the USA between AAs and Caucasians; however, additional molecular and population-based studies are needed, and are currently underway (i.e. CBCS Phase III), which should allow us to more thoroughly understand these outcome differences.

I am a currently the May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor of Molecular Oncology, a Professor of Genetics, and of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, and have been a faculty member at UNC since 2000. I am also the Faculty Director of the LCCC Bioinformatics Group, and Co-Director of the LCCC Breast Cancer Research Program. I have authored more than 330 peer-reviewed articles, and am an inventor on five USA patents. I am a member of the AACR, ASCO, the ALLIANCE Breast Committee, and the Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium. My lab has received support from the NIH/NCI, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen, and V Foundation for Cancer Research, and I have also co-founded two genomics-based biotechnology companies (BioClassifier LLC, and GeneCentric Therapeutics). I am actively seeking new graduate students, medical fellows, and postdocs and have opportunities available for both experimental and computational scientists.

Awards and Honors

  • AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research (2009)
  • Danaher Scientific & Medical Award, a Susan G. Komen Award (2011)
  • The European Institute of Oncology Breast Cancer Therapy Award (2012)
  • Hyman L. Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award from UNC (2013)
  • Jill Rose Award for Distinguished Biomedical Research from the BRCF (2016)
  • Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Research from the Susan G. Komen (2016)
  • Thomson Reuters Most Highly Cited Researchers (Top 1% in Clinical Medicine) (2014-16)

Mentor Training:

  • Bias 101
  • DEI Program Part 1 – Unconscious Bias
  • DEI Program Part 2 – Respecting All
  • REI Groundwater Training


PubMed Link

Charles Perou in UNC Genetics News

Charles M. Perou, PhD
  • Phone Number

    919-843-5740 (Office Phone)

  • Address

    LIneberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Marsico Hall, 5th floor

    CB#7295, 125 Mason Farm Road

    Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7295