Current Role at Stanford

Senior Scientist and Lab Manager, Alice Fan Lab


Education & Certifications

  • MSc, ETH Zurich, Biology (2007)
  • PhD, ETH Zurich, Biology (2011)

All Publications

  • Automated Image Analysis for Characterization of Circulating Tumor Cells and Clusters Sorted by Magnetic Levitation. Advanced biology Ogut, M. G., Ma, P., Gupta, R., Hoerner, C. R., Fan, A. C., El-Kaffas, A. N., Durmus, N. G. 2023: e2300109


    Magnetic levitation-based sorting technologies have revolutionized the detection and isolation of rare cells, including circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and circulating tumor cell clusters (CTCCs). Manual counting and quantification of these cells are prone to time-consuming processes, human error, and inter-observer variability, particularly challenging when heterogeneous cell types in 3D clusters are present. To overcome these challenges, we developed "Fastcount," an in-house MATLAB-based algorithm for precise, automated quantification and phenotypic characterization of CTCs and CTCCs, in both 2D and 3D. Fastcount is 120 times faster than manual counting and produces reliable results with a ±7.3% deviation compared to a trained laboratory technician. By analyzing 400 GB of fluorescence imaging data, we showed that Fastcount outperforms manual counting and commercial software when cells are aggregated in 3D or staining artifacts are present, delivering more accurate results. We further employed Fastcount for automated analysis of 3D image stacks obtained from CTCCs isolated from colorectal adenocarcinoma and renal cell carcinoma blood samples. Interestingly, we observed a highly heterogeneous spatial cellular composition within CTCCs, even among clusters from the same patient. Overall, Fastcount can be employed for various applications with lab-chip devices, such as CTC detection, CTCC analysis in 3D and cell detection in biosensors.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/adbi.202300109

    View details for PubMedID 37462226

  • Recurrent repeat expansions in human cancer genomes. Nature Erwin, G. S., Gursoy, G., Al-Abri, R., Suriyaprakash, A., Dolzhenko, E., Zhu, K., Hoerner, C. R., White, S. M., Ramirez, L., Vadlakonda, A., Vadlakonda, A., von Kraut, K., Park, J., Brannon, C. M., Sumano, D. A., Kirtikar, R. A., Erwin, A. A., Metzner, T. J., Yuen, R. K., Fan, A. C., Leppert, J. T., Eberle, M. A., Gerstein, M., Snyder, M. P. 2022


    Expansion of a single repetitive DNA sequence, termed a tandem repeat (TR), is known to cause more than 50 diseases1,2. However, repeat expansions are often not explored beyond neurological and neurodegenerative disorders. In some cancers, mutations accumulate in short tracts of TRs, a phenomenon termed microsatellite instability; however, larger repeat expansions have not been systematically analysed in cancer3-8. Here we identified TR expansions in 2,622 cancer genomes spanning 29 cancer types. In seven cancer types, we found 160 recurrent repeat expansions (rREs), most of which (155/160) were subtype specific. We found that rREs were non-uniformly distributed in the genome with enrichment near candidate cis-regulatory elements, suggesting a potential role in gene regulation. One rRE, a GAAA-repeat expansion, located near a regulatory element in the first intron of UGT2B7 was detected in 34% of renal cell carcinoma samples and was validated by long-read DNA sequencing. Moreover, in preliminary experiments, treating cells that harbour this rRE with a GAAA-targeting molecule led to a dose-dependent decrease in cell proliferation. Overall, our results suggest that rREs may be an important but unexplored source of genetic variation in human cancer, and we provide a comprehensive catalogue for further study.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41586-022-05515-1

    View details for PubMedID 36517591

  • Clinical laboratory tests associated with survival in patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma: A Laboratory Wide Association Study (LWAS). Urologic oncology Velaer, K., Thomas, I. C., Yang, J., Kapphahn, K., Metzner, T. J., Golla, A., Hoerner, C. R., Fan, A. C., Master, V., Chertow, G. M., Brooks, J. D., Patel, C. J., Desai, M., Leppert, J. T. 2021


    Prognostic models for patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC) include select laboratory values. These models have important limitations, including reliance on a limited array of laboratory tests, and use of dichotomous ("high-low") cutoffs. We applied a Laboratory-Wide Association Study (LWAS) framework to systematically evaluate common clinical laboratory results associated with survival for patients diagnosed with mRCC.We used laboratory data for 3,385 patients diagnosed with mRCC from 2002 to 2017. We developed a LWAS framework, to examine the association with 53 common clinical laboratory tests results (641,712 measurements) and overall survival. We employed false-discovery rate to test the association of multiple laboratory tests with survival, and validated these results using 3 separate cohorts to generate a standardized hazard ratio (sHR), reported for a 1 standard deviation unit change in each laboratory test.The LWAS approach confirmed the association of laboratory values currently used in prognostic models with survival, including calcium (HR 1.35, 95%CI 1.24-1.48), leukocyte count (HR 1.40, 95%CI 1.30-1.51), platelet count (HR 1.36, 95%CI 1.27-1.51), and hemoglobin (HR 0.79, 95%CI 0.72-0.86). Use of these tests as continuous variables improved model performance. LWAS also identified acute phase reactants associated with survival not typically included in prognostic models, including serum albumin (HR 0.66, 95%CI 0.61-0.72), ferritin (HR 1.25, 95%CI 1.08-1.45), alkaline phosphatase (HR 1.31, 95%CI 1.23-1.40), and C-reactive protein (HR 1.70, 95%CI 1.14-2.53).Routinely measured laboratory tests can refine current prognostic models, facilitate comparisons across clinical trial cohorts, and match patients with specific systemic therapies.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.urolonc.2021.08.011

    View details for PubMedID 34580027

  • The 'Achilles Heel' of Metabolism in Renal Cell Carcinoma: Glutaminase Inhibition as a Rational Treatment Strategy. Kidney cancer Hoerner, C. R., Chen, V. J., Fan, A. C. 2019; 3 (1): 15–29


    An important hallmark of cancer is 'metabolic reprogramming' or the rewiring of cellular metabolism to support rapid cell proliferation [1-5]. Metabolic reprogramming through oncometabolite-mediated transformation or activation of oncogenes in renal cell carcinoma (RCC) globally impacts energy production as well as glucose and glutamine utilization in RCC cells, which can promote dependence on glutamine supply to support cell growth and proliferation [6, 7]. Novel inhibitors of glutaminase, a key enzyme in glutamine metabolism, target glutamine addiction as a viable treatment strategy in metastatic RCC (mRCC). Here, we review glutamine metabolic pathways and how changes in cellular glutamine utilization enable the progression of RCC. This overview provides scientific rationale for targeting this pathway in patients with mRCC. We will summarize the current understanding of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying anti-tumor efficacy of glutaminase inhibitors in RCC, provide an overview of clinical efforts targeting glutaminase in mRCC, and review approaches for identifying biomarkers for patient stratification and detecting therapeutic response early on in patients treated with this novel class of anti-cancer drug. Ultimately, results of ongoing clinical trials will demonstrate whether glutaminase inhibition can be a worthy addition to the current armamentarium of drugs used for patients with mRCC.

    View details for PubMedID 30854496

  • Time on Therapy for at Least Three Months Correlates with Overall Survival in Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma. Cancers Chen, V. J., Hernandez-Meza, G. n., Agrawal, P. n., Zhang, C. A., Xie, L. n., Gong, C. L., Hoerner, C. R., Srinivas, S. n., Oermann, E. K., Fan, A. C. 2019; 11 (7)


    With 15 drugs currently approved for the treatment of metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC) and even more combination regimens with immunotherapy on the horizon, there remains a distinct lack of molecular biomarkers for therapeutic efficacy. Our study reports on real-world clinical outcomes of mRCC patients from a tertiary academic medical center treated with empirically selected standard-of-care therapy. We utilized the Stanford Renal Cell Carcinoma Database (RCCD) to report on various outcome measures, including overall survival (OS) and the median number of lines of targeted therapies received from the time of metastatic diagnosis. We found that most metastatic patients did not survive long enough to attempt even half of the available targeted therapies. We also noted that patients who failed to receive a clinical benefit within the first two lines of therapy could still go on to experience clinical benefit in later lines of therapy. The term, "clinical benefit" was assigned to a line of therapy if a patient remained on drug treatment for three months or longer. Moreover, patients with clinical benefit in at least one line of therapy experienced significantly longer OS compared to those who did not have clinical benefit in at least one line of therapy. Developing biomarkers that identify patients who will receive clinical benefit in individual lines of therapy is one potential strategy for achieving rational drug sequencing in mRCC.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/cancers11071000

    View details for PubMedID 31319594

  • Multiregion Quantification of Extracellular Signal-regulated Kinase Activity in Renal Cell Carcinoma. European urology oncology Hoerner, C. R., Massoudi, R., Metzner, T. J., Stell, L., O'Rourke, J. J., Kong, C. S., Liliental, J. E., Brooks, J. D., Sabatti, C., Leppert, J. T., Fan, A. C. 2018


    To personalize treatment for renal cell carcinoma (RCC), it would be ideal to confirm the activity of druggable protein pathways within individual tumors. We have developed a high-resolution nanoimmunoassay (NIA) to measure protein activity with high precision in scant specimens (eg, fine needle aspirates [FNAs]). Here, we used NIA to determine whether protein activation varied in different regions of RCC tumors. Since most RCC therapies target angiogenesis by inhibiting the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor, we quantified phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), a downstream effector of the VEGF signaling pathway. In 90 ex vivo FNA biopsies sampled from multiple regions of 38 primary clear cell RCC tumors, ERK phosphorylation differed among patients. In contrast, within individual patients, we found limited intratumoral heterogeneity of ERK phosphorylation. Our results suggest that measuring ERK in a single FNA may be representative of ERK activity in different regions of the same tumor. As diagnostic and therapeutic protein biomarkers are being sought, NIA measurements of protein signaling may increase the clinical utility of renal mass biopsy and allow for the application of precision oncology for patients with localized and advanced RCC. PATIENT SUMMARY: In this report, we applied a new approach to measure the activity of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), a key cancer signaling protein, in different areas within kidney cancers. We found that ERK activity varied between patients, but that different regions within individual kidney tumors showed similar ERK activity. This suggests that a single biopsy of renal cell carcinoma may be sufficient to measure protein signaling activity to aid in precision oncology approaches.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.euo.2018.09.011

    View details for PubMedID 31412000

  • Monitoring Neutropenia for Cancer Patients at the Point of Care. Small methods Inan, H., Kingsley, J. L., Ozen, M. O., Tekin, H. C., Hoerner, C. R., Imae, Y., Metzner, T. J., Preiss, J. S., Durmus, N. G., Ozsoz, M., Wakelee, H., Fan, A. C., Tüzel, E., Demirci, U. 2017; 1 (9)


    Neutrophils have a critical role in regulating the immune system. The immune system is compromised during chemotherapy, increasing infection risks and imposing a need for regular monitoring of neutrophil counts. Although commercial hematology analyzers are currently used in clinical practice for neutrophil counts, they are only available in clinics and hospitals, use large blood volumes, and are not available at the point of care (POC). Additionally, phlebotomy and blood processing require trained personnel, where patients are often admitted to hospitals when the infections are at late stage due to lack of frequent monitoring. Here, a reliable method is presented that selectively captures and quantifies white blood cells (WBCs) and neutrophils from a finger prick volume of whole blood by integrating microfluidics with high-resolution imaging algorithms. The platform is compact, portable, and easy to use. It captures and quantifies WBCs and neutrophils with high efficiency (>95%) and specificity (>95%) with an overall 4.2% bias compared to standard testing. The results from a small cohort of patients (N = 11 healthy, N = 5 lung and kidney cancer) present a unique disposable cell counter, demonstrating the ability of this tool to monitor neutrophil and WBC counts within clinical or in resource-constrained environments.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/smtd.201700193

    View details for PubMedID 30740513

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6364993

  • Centriole triplet microtubules are required for stable centriole formation and inheritance in human cells. eLife Wang, J. T., Kong, D. n., Hoerner, C. R., Loncarek, J. n., Stearns, T. n. 2017; 6


    Centrioles are composed of long-lived microtubules arranged in nine triplets. However, the contribution of triplet microtubules to mammalian centriole formation and stability is unknown. Little is known of the mechanism of triplet microtubule formation, but experiments in unicellular eukaryotes indicate that delta-tubulin and epsilon-tubulin, two less-studied tubulin family members, are required. Here, we report that centrioles in delta-tubulin and epsilon-tubulin null mutant human cells lack triplet microtubules and fail to undergo centriole maturation. These aberrant centrioles are formed de novo each cell cycle, but are unstable and do not persist to the next cell cycle, leading to a futile cycle of centriole formation and--- disintegration. Disintegration can be suppressed by paclitaxel treatment. Delta-tubulin and epsilon-tubulin physically interact, indicating that these tubulins act together to maintain triplet microtubules and that these are necessary for inheritance of centrioles from one cell cycle to the next.

    View details for PubMedID 28906251

  • Spatial constraints control cell proliferation in tissues PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Streichan, S. J., Hoerner, C. R., Schneidt, T., Holzer, D., Hufnagel, L. 2014; 111 (15): 5586-5591


    Control of cell proliferation is a fundamental aspect of tissue formation in development and regeneration. Cells experience various spatial and mechanical constraints depending on their environmental context in the body, but we do not fully understand if and how such constraints influence cell cycle progression and thereby proliferation patterns in tissues. Here, we study the impact of mechanical manipulations on the cell cycle of individual cells within a mammalian model epithelium. By monitoring the response to experimentally applied forces, we find a checkpoint at the G1-S boundary that, in response to spatial constraints, controls cell cycle progression. This checkpoint prevents cells from entering S phase if the available space remains below a characteristic threshold because of crowding. Stretching the tissue results in fast cell cycle reactivation, whereas compression rapidly leads to cell cycle arrest. Our kinetic analysis of this response shows that cells have no memory of past constraints and allows us to formulate a biophysical model that predicts tissue growth in response to changes in spatial constraints in the environment. This characteristic biomechanical cell cycle response likely serves as a fundamental control mechanism to maintain tissue integrity and to ensure control of tissue growth during development and regeneration.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1323016111

    View details for Web of Science ID 000334288600043

    View details for PubMedID 24706777

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3992650

  • Remembrance of cilia past. Cell Hoerner, C., Stearns, T. 2013; 155 (2): 271-273


    The primary cilium is thought to be disassembled prior to mitosis, freeing the centrosomes to participate in the mitotic spindle. In this issue, Paridaen et al. demonstrate that a remnant of the ciliary membrane remains attached to the mother centriole and is asymmetrically inherited in the developing neocortex.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2013.09.027

    View details for PubMedID 24120128

  • Quantitative image analysis identifies pVHL as a key regulator of microtubule dynamic instability JOURNAL OF CELL BIOLOGY Thoma, C. R., Matov, A., Gutbrodt, K. L., Hoerner, C. R., Smole, Z., Krek, W., Danuser, G. 2010; 190 (6): 991-1003


    Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene mutations predispose carriers to kidney cancer. The protein pVHL has been shown to interact with microtubules (MTs), which is critical to cilia maintenance and mitotic spindle orientation. However, the function for pVHL in the regulation of MT dynamics is unknown. We tracked MT growth via the plus end marker EB3 (end-binding protein 3)-GFP and inferred additional parameters of MT dynamics indirectly by spatiotemporal grouping of growth tracks from live cell imaging. Our data establish pVHL as a near-optimal MT-stabilizing protein: it attenuates tubulin turnover, both during MT growth and shrinkage, inhibits catastrophe, and enhances rescue frequencies. These functions are mediated, in part, by inhibition of tubulin guanosine triphosphatase activity in vitro and at MT plus ends and along the MT lattice in vivo. Mutants connected to the VHL cancer syndrome are differentially compromised in these activities. Thus, single cell-level analysis of pVHL MT regulatory function allows new predictions for genotype to phenotype associations that deviate from the coarser clinically defined mutant classifications.

    View details for DOI 10.1083/jcb.201006059

    View details for Web of Science ID 000282604600007

    View details for PubMedID 20855504

  • pVHL and GSK3 beta are components of a primary cilium-maintenance signalling network NATURE CELL BIOLOGY Thoma, C. R., Frew, I. J., Hoerner, C. R., Montani, M., Moch, H., Krek, W. 2007; 9 (5): 588-U191


    Defects in the structure or function of the primary cilium, an antennae-like structure whose functional integrity has been linked to the suppression of uncontrolled kidney epithelial cell proliferation, are a common feature of genetic disorders characterized by kidney cysts. However, the mechanisms by which primary cilia are maintained remain poorly defined. von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease is characterized by the development of premalignant renal cysts and arises because of functional inactivation of the VHL tumour suppressor gene product, pVHL. Here, we show that pVHL and glycogen synthase kinase (GSK)3beta are key components of an interlinked signalling pathway that maintains the primary cilium. Although inactivation of either pVHL or GSK3beta alone did not affect cilia maintenance, their combined inactivation leads to loss of cilia. In VHL patients, GSK3beta is subjected to inhibitory phosphorylation in renal cysts, but not in early VHL mutant lesions, and these cysts exhibit reduced frequencies of primary cilia. We propose that pVHL and GSK3beta function together in a ciliary-maintenance signalling network, disruption of which enhances the vulnerability of cells to lose their cilia, thereby promoting cyst formation.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/ncb1579

    View details for Web of Science ID 000246181500018

    View details for PubMedID 17450132

  • Targeting Metabolic Pathways in Kidney Cancer: Rationale and Therapeutic Opportunities. Cancer journal (Sudbury, Mass.) Hoerner, C. R., Miao, S. Y., Hsieh, J. J., Fan, A. C. ; 26 (5): 407–18


    Alterations in cellular sugar, amino acid and nucleic acid, and lipid metabolism, as well as in mitochondrial function, are a hallmark of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). The activation of oncogenes such as hypoxia-inducible factor and loss of the von Hippel-Lindau function and other tumor suppressors frequently occur early on during tumorigenesis and are the drivers for these changes, collectively known as "metabolic reprogramming," which promotes cellular growth, proliferation, and stress resilience. However, tumor cells can become addicted to reprogrammed metabolism. Here, we review the current knowledge of metabolic addictions in clear cell RCC, the most common form of RCC, and to what extent this has created therapeutic opportunities to interfere with such altered metabolic pathways to selectively target tumor cells. We highlight preclinical and emerging clinical data on novel therapeutics targeting metabolic traits in clear cell RCC to provide a comprehensive overview on current strategies to exploit metabolic reprogramming clinically.

    View details for DOI 10.1097/PPO.0000000000000472

    View details for PubMedID 32947309