Heather Christofk, PhD

Heather Christofk, Ph.D. 

Professor, Biological Chemistry


Heather Christofk, Ph.D., studies how stem cells and cancer cells metabolize nutrients that enable them to divide, make energy and respond to their environment. The chief aims of her research are to identify how cells use nutrients to fuel growth and other cellular activities, and to develop novel strategies to treat cancer by manipulating metabolic processes and depriving cancer cells of essential nutrients.

Scientists have known for decades that cell metabolism is altered in cancer because tumors require a higher level of nutrients to grow and divide rapidly. Christofk aims to further this understanding by identifying precisely how metabolism is regulated in cancer cells and what nutrients are required for tumor growth. Ultimately, Christofk hopes this research will lead to a two-pronged approach to cancer treatment that combines drugs to alter cancer cell metabolism with changes in diet to limit the availability of growth-promoting nutrients.

In order to discover how cancer cells ramp up metabolism, the Christofk lab studies another life form that requires extra nutrients to grow and divide rapidly – viruses. Christofk and her team published the first study to explain in detail how viruses alter the metabolism of human lung cells to promote continued viral growth. Christofk is now working to translate her discoveries about virus metabolism into therapeutic targets for cancer treatment.

While cancer is the primary focus of Christofk’s research, her insights into how cell metabolism regulates and influences cellular development have broad applications. Christofk and colleagues discovered that altering the metabolic processes of hair follicle stem cells can activate hair growth. This research may lead to new drugs that could help reverse hair loss for people experiencing baldness or alopecia. Christofk and her collaborators are now working to determine if manipulating metabolic processes of hair follicle stem cells can stop the initiation and progression of skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma.

Christofk earned her doctorate at Harvard Medical School and completed post-doctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco.


Honors & Affiliations


  • Carolyn Kaelin Award at the Aspen Cancer Conference, 2019
  • Honorable mention, Martin and Rose Wachtel Cancer Research Award, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2017
  • Ablon Scholar Award, 2017
  • American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award, 2016


  • Advisory board, Cell 
  • Advisory board, Cell Metabolism
  • Editorial board, PLOS Biology
  • Editorial board, Cancer Discovery
  • Editorial board, iScience
  • American Association for Cancer Research


Christofk’s work is funded by the National Cancer Institute, the Kidney Cancer Association, and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.


Targeting the nutrients that fuel cancer's growth
Heather Christofk’s research goal is to identify how cells use nutrients to fuel growth and other cellular activities. In this video, she discusses her work to develop treatment methods that stall the growth of cancer by depriving it of critical nutrients.