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BCRF Investigator Since

2011

Donor Recognition

The Robert K. Kraft Award

Area(s) of Focus

Daniel A. Haber, MD, PhD

Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
Isselbacher/Schwartz Professor of Oncology
Harvard Medical School
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts

Current Research

  • Seeking to answer critical clinical questions in breast cancer by studying individual tumor cells extracted from the blood of patients.

  • Studies are ongoing to understand the mechanisms of drug resistance by studying the molecular signatures of circulating tumor cells from breast cancer patients. 

  • These studies are advancing our understanding of drug resistance and will inform future strategies to improve outcomes and extend the lives of breast cancer patients. 

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are tumor cells that have become detached from the primary tumor and entered the circulation. Although very rare in the blood, these cancer cells hold the key to understanding the process of cancer metastasis. In addition, they provide a source of cancer cells that can be sampled from breast cancer patients in "real time", allowing doctors to monitor response and adjust therapy without having to perform repeated biopsies.

Dr. Haber and colleagues have developed a special system called a microfluidic chip to capture minute amounts of CTCs and are now able to use the system to ask critical questions about the biology of metastatic breast cancer.

In recent work, Dr. Haber and his team discovered that cultured cancer cells from women with advanced breast cancer can switch between a fast-growing state and a dormant state, depending on the environmental signals. The ability of cancer cells to switch so quickly between two states has profound implications for our understanding of cancer drug resistance and suggests that drugs against both states should be delivered simultaneously to effectively treat advanced breast cancer.

This year, they will delve deeper into this finding and develop approaches to suppress this harmful phenomenon. They continue to enhance the detection technologies for CTCs in breast cancer, with the goal of establishing a robust and rapid strategy for measuring molecular signatures of breast cancer cells in the blood. Such a tool would have major benefit both for monitoring women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, as well as for the early detection of invasive breast cancer.

Collectively, these studies will lead the way to new strategies for designing individualized treatments for breast cancer. 

Bio

Dr. Haber is Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and the Kurt J. Isselbacher Professor of Oncology at Harvard Medical School. His laboratory interests have focused on the area of cancer genetics, including the etiology of the pediatric kidney cancer Wilms tumor, genetic predisposition to breast cancer, and targeted cancer therapies. His laboratory reported that lung cancers with activating mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) are uniquely sensitive to tyrosine kinase inhibitors that target this receptor. This observation has had important implications for the genotype-directed treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, and more broadly for strategies to identify critical genetic lesions in cancers that may serve as an "Achilles heel" and be suitable for molecular targeting. In collaboration with Dr. Mehmet Toner’s laboratory, Dr. Haber’s laboratory has recently established the application of a novel microfluidic technology for quantifying and purifying Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs) from the blood of patients with various epithelial cancers. This new application has potentially profound implications for early diagnosis of cancer and for noninvasive molecular profiling of cancers during the course of therapy.

Dr. Haber received his MD and PhD degrees at Stanford in 1983, completed an internal medicine residency at MGH, clinical oncology training at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and a postdoctoral research fellowship at MIT. He joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School in 1991. Dr. Haber’s numerous awards include a MERIT Award from the National Cancer Institute, the Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award, and a Dream Team Award from Stand Up To Cancer. He received the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). He was appointed to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2008 and elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2009 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011.