Luis Diaz

Dr. Luis Diaz is a leading authority in oncology, having pioneered several genomic diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for cancer. He is an attending physician at the Johns Hopkins Hospital where he specializes in the treatment of advanced pancreatic and colorectal cancers.  He is a member of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics where he directs translational medicine and is the Director of 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.Dr. Diaz is involved in near-patient translational studies with the goal of bringing diagnostic and therapeutic studies to patients.  His achievements include successfully translating an approach that targets anaerobic regions of solid tumors with spore-forming anaerobic bacteria.  Currently, Clostridium novyi-NT is in clinical trials in humans with treatment refractory solid tumors.  This approach has resulted in several spin-off technologies including an approach to directly image this bacterium in vivo was developed using a radiolabeled nucleoside analog, FIAU using standard PET scans.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.Over the past two years, Dr. Diaz has pivoted his research to include novel therapeutic approaches based on cancer genomics.  The first is investigating in human clinical trials, the role of somatic genomic alterations as neoantigens and predictive markers to immune checkpoint inhibitors.  He is also leading an effort in pancreatic cancer to develop rationale multiagent approaches to overcome resistance to and targeted and chemo-therapy.He is a member of the groups that received the 2013 AACR Team Cancer Award for Pancreatic Cancer Sequencing Team and the 2014 AACR Team Cancer Award for Malignant Brain Tumor 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.