Sartorius Lab

The Sartorius laboratory studies the actions of the female steroid hormones progesterone and estradiol through their cognate receptors PR and ER in breast cancer. Nearly 75% of all newly diagnosed breast cancer cases are ER+PR+ (termed luminal) and are treated with endocrine therapies targeting the estrogen signaling axis. These treatments are not always durable and around one third of patients experience tumor recurrence. Such recurrences metastasize to other parts of the body, progress to drug resistance and account for almost all breast cancer deaths. Our laboratory seeks to determine basic mechanisms of tumor progression that are unique to ER+PR+ breast cancers in order to identify new treatment modalities. We have traditionally focused on the actions of progesterone and PR in breast cancer and identified that progesterone regulates the number of breast cancer stem cells (CSCs) thought to underlie drug resistance and recurrence. Ongoing studies are investigating signaling and metabolism unique to luminal breast CSCs in order to identify targetable vulnerabilities. We also study crosstalk among ER, PR, and retinoic acid receptors (RARs) in regulating breast tumor growth.


We utilize multiple breast cancer cell line and tumor models to pursue these studies. With our collaborator and medical oncologist Dr. Peter Kabos we have developed transplantable patient-derived xenografts (PDX) from a variety of human primary and metastatic breast cancers with an emphasis on ER+PR+ models. We are using these models to answer questions related to heterogeneity of ER+PR+ breast cancers, luminal breast CSCs, and mechanisms of ER+PR+ breast cancer metastasis.

Current projects:

Progesterone regulation of breast cancer stem cells

Hormone receptor cross-talk in regulating breast cancer growth

Estrogen and progesterone regulation of breast cancer cell metabolism

Organ-tropic metastasis of ER+PR+ breast cancers

Mechanisms of endocrine resistance​

Selected Publications:


Google Scholar 

Fettig LM, McGinn O, Finlay-Schultz J, LaBarbera DV, Nordeen SK and Sartorius CA. Crosstalk between progesterone receptors and retinoic acid receptors in regulation of cytokeratin 5 positive breast cancer cells. Oncogene. 2017 Nov 2;36(44):6074-6084. Epub 2017 July 10. PMID: 28692043 

Finlay-Schultz J, Gillen AE, Brechbuhl HM, Ivie J, Matthews SB, Jacobsen BM, Bentley DL, Kabos P and Sartorius CA. Breast cancer suppression by progesterone receptors is mediated by their modulation of estrogen receptors and RNA polymerase III. Cancer Res. 2017 Sep 15;77(18):4934-4946. Epub 2017 Jul 20. PMID: 28729413 

Wellberg EA*, Kabos P*, Gillen AE, Jacobsen BM,4, Brechbuhl HM, Johnson SJ, Rudolph MC, Edgerton SM, Thor AD, Anderson SM, Elias A, Zhou XK, Iyengar NM,7, Morrow M, Falcone DJ, El-Hely O, Dannenberg AJ, Sartorius CA* and MacLean PS*. FGFR1 underlies obesity-associated progression of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer after estrogen deprivation. JCI Insight. 2018 Jul 26;3(14). PMID: 30046001

Current Lab Members: ​

Jessica Finlay-Schultz, Ph.D. (Research Instructor)

Shawna Matthews, Ph.D. (Postdoctoral fellow)

Lynsey Fettig, Ph.D. (Cancer Biology graduate student)

Olivia McGinn, B.S. (Cancer Biology graduate student)

Ashley Ward, B.S. (Cancer Biology graduate student)

Duncan Riley, B.S. (Professional Research Assistant)

Lab address:

University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

Research Center 1 South, Room 5403C

12801 East 17th Ave

Aurora, CO 80045-2530

Postition Inquiries:​

Postdoctoral inquiries


Carol Sartorius PhD

Professor - Breast Cancer Research
  • Pathology (SOM)

Education, Licensure & Certifications

Education and Training:

  • BS, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

  • PhD, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO, Dr. Kathryn Horwitz

  • Fellowship, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO

Training Program Affiliations:
  • Member of Graduate Programs in Cancer Biology, Biomedical Sciences, and the Medical Scientist Training Program