Zena Werb, PhD

Zena Werb, PhD

Professor and Vice-Chair, Department of Anatomy, UCSF
Co-Leader, Cancer, Immunity, and Microenvironment Program, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center


Phone: (415) 476-4622, (415) 476-4758, (415) 476-4564 (voice)
Box 0452, UCSF
San Francisco, CA 94143-0452

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Research Summary

I have led projects on breast cancer and the environment, concentrating on puberty as the window of susceptibility for the past 12 years. My expertise in breast development, breast cancer, and the epithelial microenvironment has been developed over three decades. I have concentrated on the molecular mechanisms involved in extracellular matrix remodeling and inflammatory cell function in mammary development and breast cancer. We have developed and used a variety of new technologies and models ranging from molecular biology to genetically engineered mouse models to intravital microscopy and 3D culture models. We have published over 450 scientific papers.

My major interest is in driving the field of the extracellular microenvironment in development, inflammation, fibrosis, and tumor biology forward technically and conceptually. Another goal is to determine insights from mammary development that help explain breast stem cells, and susceptibility to cancer development and metastasis. My research program has been characterized by innovation and thoroughness. I have considerable experience in administering projects with collaborations and co-authored publications. I have also put considerable effort into mentoring young scientists and have trained more than 70 students and postdoctoral fellows.


University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, B.Sc., 1966, Biochemistry
Rockefeller University, New York, NY, Ph.D., 1971, Cell Biology
Strangeways Research. Laboratory, Cambridge, U.K., Postdoc., 1971-73, Protein Chemistry

Professional Experience

  • 1973-1975
    Research Scientist, Strangeways Res. Lab., Cambridge, U.K.
  • 1975-1976
    Visiting Assistant Professor of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH
  • 1976-1980
    Asst. Professor of Radiobiology, Radiology, Univ. of California, San Francisco
  • 1979-1980
    Asst. Professor of Anatomy, UCSF
  • 1980-1983
    Assoc. Professor of Anatomy and Radiology, UCSF
  • 1983-present
    Professor of Anatomy, UCSF
  • 1985-1986
    Visiting Prof. (Lab. of N.J. Proudfoot), Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, Univ. of Oxford, U.K.
  • 1998
    Visiting Professor, Institut Curie Paris
  • 1999-present
    Vice-chair, Dept of Anatomy, UCSF
  • 2006-2007
    Visiting Professor, Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry, Martinsried, Germany

Honors & Awards

  • 1971-1973
    Fellow, Medical Research Council of Canada
  • 1982
    R.R. Bensley Memorial Lecturer of the American Association of Anatomists
  • 1985-1986
    Fellow, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation
  • 1986
    Muriel Trotter Lecturer, Washington University, St. Louis
  • 1993-1994
    Sigma Xi National Lecturer
  • 1996
    FASEB Excellence in Science Award
  • 1997
    Chitra Biswas Memorial Lecturer, Tufts Medical School
  • 1998
    Rothschild/Mayent Fellowship, Institut Curie, Paris
  • 1998
    Earl Benditt Distinguished Lecturer, University of Washington
  • 1999
    J.L. Melnick Lecturer, Baylor College of Medicine
  • 1999
    Biosciences Distinguished Lecturer, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • 2000
    Gwendolyn J. Stewart Award, Temple University
  • 2001
    Charlotte Friend Lecturer, AACR
  • 2001
    44th Faculty Research Lecturer, UCSF
  • 2001
    H.B. Parker Lecture, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • 2002
    Elected Member, Institute of Medicine
  • 2003
    Elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2003
    Doctor of Medicine (honoris causa), University of Copenhagen
  • 2004
    Schlessinger Lecture, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School
  • 2004
    A. S. Wiener Lecture, New York Blood Center
  • 2005
    Maud L. Menten Lecturer, University of Pittsburgh
  • 2006
    Alexander von Humboldt Research Award
  • 2007
    E.B. Wilson Medal, American Society for Cell Biology
  • 2009
    Colin Thomson Memorial Medal, Association for International Cancer Research
  • 2010
    Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences
  • 2010
    American Society for Cell Biology, Women in Cell Biology Senior Award
  • 2011
    Zero Breast Cancer 2011 Community Breast Cancer Research Award

Selected Publications

  1. Lawson DA, Bhakta NR, Kessenbrock K, Prummel KD, Yu Y, Takai K, Zhou A, Eyob H, Balakrishnan S, Wang CY, Yaswen P, Goga A, Werb Z. Single-cell analysis reveals a stem-cell program in human metastatic breast cancer cells. Nature. 2015 Oct 1; 526(7571):131-5.
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  2. Plaks V, Boldajipour B, Linnemann JR, Nguyen NH, Kersten K, Wolf Y, Casbon AJ, Kong N, van den Bijgaart RJ, Sheppard D, Melton AC, Krummel MF, Werb Z. Adaptive Immune Regulation of Mammary Postnatal Organogenesis. Dev Cell. 2015 Sep 14; 34(5):493-504.
    View on PubMed
  3. Werb Z, Lu P. The Role of Stroma in Tumor Development. Cancer J. 2015 Jul-Aug; 21(4):250-3.
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  4. Depeille P, Henricks LM, van de Ven RA, Lemmens E, Wang CY, Matli M, Werb Z, Haigis KM, Donner D, Warren R, Roose JP. RasGRP1 opposes proliferative EGFR-SOS1-Ras signals and restricts intestinal epithelial cell growth. Nat Cell Biol. 2015 Jun; 17(6):804-15.
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  5. Chambers AF, Werb Z. Invasion and metastasis-recent advances and future challenges. J Mol Med (Berl). 2015 Apr; 93(4):361-8.
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  6. Plaks V, Kong N, Werb Z. The cancer stem cell niche: how essential is the niche in regulating stemness of tumor cells? Cell Stem Cell. 2015 Mar 5; 16(3):225-38.
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  7. Kessenbrock K, Wang CY, Werb Z. Matrix metalloproteinases in stem cell regulation and cancer. Matrix Biol. 2015 May-Jul; 44-46:184-90.
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  8. Casbon AJ, Reynaud D, Park C, Khuc E, Gan DD, Schepers K, Passegué E, Werb Z. Invasive breast cancer reprograms early myeloid differentiation in the bone marrow to generate immunosuppressive neutrophils. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Feb 10; 112(6):E566-75.
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  9. Lemieux GA, Cunningham KA, Lin L, Mayer F, Werb Z, Ashrafi K. Kynurenic Acid Is a Nutritional Cue that Enables Behavioral Plasticity. Cell. 2015 Jan 15; 160(1-2):119-31.
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  10. Shahi P, Slorach EM, Wang CY, Chou J, Lu A, Ruderisch A, Werb Z. The Transcriptional Repressor ZNF503/Zeppo2 Promotes Mammary Epithelial Cell Proliferation and Enhances Cell Invasion. J Biol Chem. 2015 Feb 6; 290(6):3803-13.
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  11. Hagerling C, Casbon AJ, Werb Z. Balancing the innate immune system in tumor development. Trends Cell Biol. 2015 Apr; 25(4):214-20.
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  12. Bonnans C, Chou J, Werb Z. Remodelling the extracellular matrix in development and disease. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2014 Nov 21; 15(12):786-801.
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  13. Lohela M, Casbon AJ, Olow A, Bonham L, Branstetter D, Weng N, Smith J, Werb Z. Intravital imaging reveals distinct responses of depleting dynamic tumor-associated macrophage and dendritic cell subpopulations. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Nov 25; 111(47):E5086-95.
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  14. Bryant DM, Roignot J, Datta A, Overeem AW, Kim M, Yu W, Peng X, Eastburn DJ, Ewald AJ, Werb Z, Mostov KE. A molecular switch for the orientation of epithelial cell polarization. Dev Cell. 2014 Oct 27; 31(2):171-87.
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  15. Bonnans C, Lohela M, Werb Z. Real-time Imaging of Myeloid Cells Dynamics in ApcMin/+ Intestinal Tumors by Spinning Disk Confocal Microscopy. J Vis Exp. 2014; (92).
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  16. Hiatt RA, Porco TC, Liu F, Balke K, Balmain A, Barlow J, Braithwaite D, Diez-Roux AV, Kushi LH, Moasser MM, Werb Z, Windham GC, Rehkopf DH. A multilevel model of postmenopausal breast cancer incidence. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2014 Oct; 23(10):2078-92.
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  17. Levine JM, Cohen ND, Heller M, Fajt VR, Levine GJ, Kerwin SC, Trivedi AA, Fandel TM, Werb Z, Modestino A, Noble-Haeusslein LJ. Efficacy of a metalloproteinase inhibitor in spinal cord injured dogs. PLoS One. 2014; 9(5):e96408.
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  18. Cheung KJ, Gabrielson E, Werb Z, Ewald AJ. Collective invasion in breast cancer requires a conserved basal epithelial program. Cell. 2013 Dec 19; 155(7):1639-51.
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  19. Lemieux GA, Keiser MJ, Sassano MF, Laggner C, Mayer F, Bainton RJ, Werb Z, Roth BL, Shoichet BK, Ashrafi K. In silico molecular comparisons of C. elegans and mammalian pharmacology identify distinct targets that regulate feeding. PLoS Biol. 2013 Nov; 11(11):e1001712.
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  20. Plaks V, Koopman CD, Werb Z. Cancer. Circulating tumor cells. Science. 2013 Sep 13; 341(6151):1186-8.
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