Joseph Franses, MD, PhD

Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts General Hospital

Joseph Franses, MD, PhD

Massachusetts General Hospital


  • Instructor, Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Assistant in Medicine, Cancer Center, Massachusetts General Hospital


Research Abstract

I am interested in understanding the heterogeneity inherent to the tumor ecosystem in gastrointestinal cancers. Specifically, I have the following interests:

1. Understanding the heterogeneous interactions between cancer cells, endothelial cells, and immune cells in the hepatocellular carcinoma microenvironment

2. Understanding circulating biomarkers pertinent for diagnosis and treatment monitoring for gastrointestinal cancers

3. Understanding novel noncoding RNA functions in GI cancers

I graduated with bachelor’s degrees in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry from Purdue University, a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology defining paracrine crosstalk interactions between endothelial cells and cancer cells, and an MD from Harvard Medical School. My graduate degrees were earned as part of the combined MD-PhD program within the Health Sciences and Technology (HST) track at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After medical school I completed internal medicine residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Medical Oncology fellowship at the Dana-Farber / Partners Cancer Care program. My fellowship research with Dr. David Ting focused on developing novel circulating biomarkers in GI cancers and utilizing circulating tumor cells to better understand the biology of metastasis, focusing particularly on an RNA-binding protein called LIN28B.

I am now leveraging my laboratory-based experience with “next-generation” sequencing, non-coding RNAs, circulating tumor cells, and tumor microenvironment interactions to design translational studies aimed to better understand and predict the responses of GI cancers to combination therapies containing immune checkpoint inhibitors. Along these lines, I am continuing my close work with David Ting and expanding my collaborations to include additional DFHCC investigators Nabeel Bardeesy (laboratory-based cancer models), Ryan Corcoran (circulating biomarkers), and Andrew Zhu and Lipika Goyal (clinical/translational collaborations). One of my initial laboratory-based translational projects will utilize paired tissue and liquid biopsies to develop novel gene expression-based biomarkers in HCC. I hope that this will enable robust characterization of HCC biology that can be utilized in many different contexts. Another nascent project will utilize tissue and plasma exosome profiling to determine prognostic biomarkers pertaining to pancreatic cancer metastatic organotropism. Finally, I will continue to focus on LIN28B as a prognostic and predictive biomarker and work with industry to develop drugs targeting the LIN28B pathway in multiple cancer types.

In addition to the laboratory-based translational roles, I will be involved significantly in clinical trial administration, particularly for patients with hepatobiliary cancers treated with checkpoint inhibitors combined with anti-angiogenesis agents. I predict that the combination of continued close collaboration with laboratory scientists will synergize well with my new role as a clinical trial PI.


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  • Ligorio M, Sil S, Malagon-Lopez J, Nieman LT, Misale S, Di Pilato M, Ebright RY, Karabacak MN, Kulkarni AS, Liu A, Vincent Jordan N, Franses JW, Philipp J, Kreuzer J, Desai N, Arora KS, Rajurkar M, Horwitz E, Neyaz A, Tai E, Magnus NKC, Vo KD, Yashaswini CN, Marangoni F, Boukhali M, Fatherree JP, Damon LJ, Xega K, Desai R, Choz M, Bersani F, Langenbucher A, Thapar V, Morris R, Wellner UF, Schilling O, Lawrence MS, Liss AS, Rivera MN, Deshpande V, Benes CH, Maheswaran S, Haber DA, Fernandez-Del-Castillo C, Ferrone CR, Haas W, Aryee MJ, Ting DT. Stromal Microenvironment Shapes the Intratumoral Architecture of Pancreatic Cancer. Cell 2019; 178:160-175.e27. PubMed
  • Franses JW, Hong TS, Zhu AX. Nivolumab with gemcitabine plus cisplatin for biliary cancers: as easy as ABC? Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol 2019. PubMed
  • Franses JW, Zhu AX. Has PD-1 MET its match in hepatocellular carcinoma? Gastroenterology 2019. PubMed
  • Franses JW, Ting DT. In Reply. Oncologist 2018; 23:e120. PubMed
  • Franses JW, Basar O, Kadayifci A, Yuksel O, Choz M, Kulkarni AS, Tai E, Vo KD, Arora KS, Desai N, Licausi JA, Toner M, Maheswaran S, Haber DA, Ryan DP, Brugge WR, Ting DT. Improved Detection of Circulating Epithelial Cells in Patients with Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasms. Oncologist 2018; 23:1260. PubMed
  • Abraham E, Gadish O, Franses JW, Chitalia VC, Artzi N, Edelman ER. Matrix-Embedded Endothelial Cells Attain a Progenitor-Like Phenotype. Adv Biosyst 2018. PubMed
  • Franses JW, Basar O, Kadayifci A, Yuksel O, Choz M, Kulkarni AS, Tai E, Vo KD, Arora KS, Desai N, Licausi JA, Toner M, Maheswaran S, Haber DA, Ryan DP, Brugge WR, Ting DT. Improved Detection of Circulating Epithelial Cells in Patients with Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasms. Oncologist 2017. PubMed
  • Franses JW, Drosu NC, Gibson WJ, Chitalia VC, Edelman ER. Dysfunctional endothelial cells directly stimulate cancer inflammation and metastasis. Int. J. Cancer 2018; 133:1334-44. PubMed
  • Kolachalama VB, Pacetti SD, Franses JW, Stankus JJ, Zhao HQ, Shazly T, Nikanorov A, Schwartz LB, Tzafriri AR, Edelman ER. Mechanisms of tissue uptake and retention in zotarolimus-coated balloon therapy. Circulation 2018; 127:2047-55. PubMed
  • Franses JW, Edelman ER. The evolution of endothelial regulatory paradigms in cancer biology and vascular repair. Cancer Res 2019; 71:7339-44. PubMed
  • Chitalia VC, Murikipudi S, Indolfi L, Rabadi L, Valdez R, Franses JW, Edelman ER. Matrix-embedded endothelial cells are protected from the uremic milieu. Nephrol. Dial. Transplant. 2018; 26:3858-65. PubMed
  • Franses JW, Baker AB, Chitalia VC, Edelman ER. Stromal endothelial cells directly influence cancer progression. Sci Transl Med 2018; 3:66ra5. PubMed