Devon A. Lawson

Dr. Lawson is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Irvine Medical School, in the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center (CFCCC) and Department of Physiology and Biophysics. She is affiliated with the Center for Complex Biological Systems (CCBS), the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and the Immunology Institute. She is co-leader of the UCI Breast Disease Oriented Team (DOT), which is a  network of clinicians and basic scientists who collaborate on translational breast cancer research, clinical trials and community outreach. She did her graduate training under the mentorship of Dr. Owen Witte at UCLA, where she was the first in the field to define mouse prostate stem cells and interrogate their role in prostate cancer initiation (Lawson DA et al., PNAS, 2007; Lawson DA et al., JCI, 2007; Lawson DA et al., PNAS 2010). This protocol is heavily cited and remains a mainstay in the field for stem cell isolation (Lukacs R et al., Nat. Protoc., 2010). As a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Zena Werb’s lab at UCSF, she built a new method to study metastatic progression combining human patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models of breast cancer and emerging single-cell transcriptome technologies. This work showed for the first time that metastatic cells express a distinct gene expression profile akin to normal breast epithelial stem cells during seeding in distal tissues (Lawson DA et al., Nature, 2015). Her laboratory continues to be at the forefront of this field, and recently published a high-impact review on tumor heterogeneity and metastasis (Lawson DA et al., Nat. Cell Biol, 2018), and a research article using single-cell RNA sequencing to identify a metabolic shift important for cancer cell metastasis (Davis RT et al., Nat. Cell Biol, 2020). Her laboratory has also made critical contributions to the Human Cell Atlas (HCA) project, an international consortium to sequence every cell in the human body, where she is part of a multi-PI effort to generate a comprehensive, multidimensional single-cell atlas of the human breast (Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, CZI) (Nguyen Q et al., Nat. Commun., 2017).


University of California, San Francisco

Postdoctoral fellow
Advisor: Zena Werb, Ph.D.
Breast cancer metastasis

University of California, Los Angeles

Doctoral student
Advisor: Owen Witte, MD
Prostate stem cells and prostate cancer

University of California, at Davis

Undergraduate student
Degree: Biological sciences, Genetics
Lab Advisor: Wolf-Dietrich Heyer
DNA repair in S. cerevisiae


2020 American Cancer Society, Research Scholar Grant

2019 V foundation, V scholar award

2019 American Cancer Society trailblazer award

2018 Susan G. Komen pink tie honoree

NIH NCI K22: Transition Career Development Award

Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program Postdoctoral fellowship

UCLA Graduate Division Dissertation Year fellowship

NIH Tumor Cell Biology Graduate student fellowship

NIH Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Student fellowship (declined)

Science Advocacy

RA_logo Advocating for science funding to public policymakers is critical for the advancement of science and medicine in the U.S. and worldwide. Dr. Lawson first became interested in science advocacy as a postdoc fellow at UCSF, where she participated in local and national lobbying efforts with the UAW 5810, The Union for Postdocs at University of California. Research!America is a lobby group supported by UAW, whose mission is to increase public awareness and support for medical research and innovation. Check out Dr. Lawson’s Research!America statement online.

Community outreach

tri valley socks logoAn estimated 150,000 women are living with metastatic breast cancer in the U.S. today, and every year 40,000 women succumb to the disease. This means that all of us are touched by it somehow, either personally or through a family member or close friend. Active support of the breast cancer patient community is therefore a critical part of our research program. Communication with patients helps inform the types of questions we ask in the lab and how we ask them. As such, we participate in annual breast cancer walks and advocacy groups, such as the Tri Valley Socks walk shown below.

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