Head of the Division of Solid Tumor Oncology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Dr. Luis Diaz is a leading authority in oncology who has pioneered several genomic diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for cancer. He is head of the Division of Solid Tumor Oncology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where he specializes in the treatment of advanced pancreatic and colorectal cancers. Prior to his role at MSKCC, he was a member of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics at Johns Hopkins and also directed the Swim Across America Lab. He is also founder of several entities that focus on genomic analyses of cancers including Inostics, PapGene and Personal Genome Diagnostics (PGDx). Dr. Diaz has undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Michigan, and completed residency training at the Osler Medical Service at Johns Hopkins and medical oncology training at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.
More recently, his work has involved the clinical development of tumor-derived DNA as a biomarker for cancer screening, early detection, monitoring and measurement of early residual disease. The basis of this work is based on the well-accepted premise that cancer is defined by a discrete set of genetic alterations. This approach combines a next-generation genomic sequencing with novel digital techniques to count tumor-derived DNA fragments in complex mixtures of DNA. The mutations found in cancers are never found in normal cell populations and detection of these mutations therefore confers exquisite specificity to the assay. Accordingly, he demonstrated that the level of mutations in the circulation, also known as circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), tracked with fluctuations in tumor burden in patients undergoing resective surgery for colorectal cancer. Most striking is the ability of ctDNA to accurately predict recurrence after surgery and monitor patients with undetectable CEA levels. This novel biomarker is based on personalized genomics that in essence provides a 'viral load' equivalent for patients with solid tumors. The preliminary studies served as the basis for his most recent invention, the 'molecular pap smear', which is a promising approach for the early detection of ovarian and endometrial cancers.
He has also harnessed the power of cancer mutations as potent antigens and championed the use of checkpoint inhibitors in the treatment of patients with tumors with high mutational burden. His landmark proof-of this principle study used PD-1 blockade in patients with mismatch repair deficiency and showing dramatic and potentially curative responses more than 50% of metastatic patients, which resulted in the first historic FDA approval of a cancer treatment for any solid tumor in adults and children with a specific genetic feature.
He is a member of the groups that received the 2013 AACR Team Science Award for Pancreatic Cancer Sequencing Team, the 2014 AACR Team Science Award for Malignant Brain Tumor Team and the 2017 AACR Team Science Award for Liquid Biopsies. He is also the leader of the 2017 SU2C Colon Cancer Dream Team. In addition, his work has been highlighted in several scientific and lay media outlets including the Diane Rehm Show, New York Times, NPR, CNN and the NBC nightly news.