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Robert Weinberg, PhD

RobertWeinbergPhD (Verified)

All Cancers

Jun. 2012

Professional Statement

Dr. Weinberg is a founding member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is also the first Director of the Ludwig Cancer Center at MIT. He is an internationally recognized authority on the genetic basis of human cancer.

Dr. Weinberg and his colleagues isolated the first human cancer-causing gene, the ras oncogene, and the first known tumor suppressor gene, Rb, the retinoblastoma gene. The principal goal of his research program is to determine how oncogenes, their normal counterparts (proto-oncogenes), and tumor suppressor genes fit together in the complex circuitry that controls cell growth. More recently, his group has succeeded in creating the first genetically defined human cancer cells. He is particularly interested in applying this knowledge to improve the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

His lab now primarily focuses on two areas: the interactions between epithelial and stromal cells (the two major types of cells found in mammalian tissue) that produce carcinomas and the processes by which cancer cells invade and metastasize.

Epithelial and stromal cells. Many mammalian tissues are formed from distinct epithelial and stromal cell layers. Often, a tumor that forms in an epithelial tissue layer must recruit stromal cells in order to become a carcinoma. Weinberg’s lab is exploring the molecular process by which this recruitment occurs. In addition, his lab has been investigating a signaling pathway operating within epithelial cells that enables them to release signals that stimulate blood vessel growth in nearby stromal cells.

Invasion and metastasis. Weinberg’s lab is focusing on a small group of transcription factors—proteins that control gene expression. These proteins, which are typically involved in embryogenesis, may contribute to cancer cells’ ability to disseminate to distant sites in the body where they may form metastases. Weinberg and his team are examining mechanisms by which tumors can reactivate the properties of these proteins that are active during embryonic development and exploit these transcription factors to execute various steps of the “invasion-metastasis” cascade—the sequence of steps that enables primary tumor cells to disseminate through the body and seed cancer cells. Additionally, the scientists are studying the role of cancer stem cells—the self-renewing, tumor-seeding cells that have been found in a number of solid tumors in the past few years. In 2008, Weinberg lab investigators reported a finding that brings together these two research themes: cancer cells induced to follow one of these embryonic pathways gain many of the properties of adult stem cells.

Personal Bio (My story)

Born in Pittsburgh in 1942, Dr. Weinberg received his B.S. (1964) and Ph.D. (1969) degrees in Biology from MIT. He did postdoctoral research at the Weizmann Institute and the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and then returned to MIT in 1972. In 1982, he was appointed Professor of Biology at MIT.

Dr. Weinberg is the author or editor of six books and more than 350 articles. He has written a comprehensive cancer textbook entitled "The Biology of Cancer". His other books, intended for a lay audience, are "One Renegade Cell," "Racing to the Beginning of the Road: The Search for the Origin of Cancer" and "Genes and the Biology of Cancer," co-authored with Dr. Harold E. Varmus, former Director of the National Institutes of Health. He is an elected Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a Member of the American Philosophical Society and the Institute of Medicine.
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