University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
E. Gifford and Love Barnett Upjohn Professor of Internal Medicine & Oncology
Division of Genetic Medicine
Department of Internal Medicine
Rogel Cancer Center
Professor, Cell and Molecular Biology Program
Life Sciences Institute
Validating new therapeutic targets to prevent metastatic breast cancer.
Aggressive breast cancers arise as a result of tumor cells’ ability to invade local tissues, gain access to blood or lymphatic vessels, and exit at distant sites where the cells grow anew—a process called metastasis. Dr. Weiss is studying a sub-population of breast cancer cells, termed cancer stem cells, that play a critical role in metastasis. The evolution of breast cancer stem cells has remained unclear, and this has thwarted the development of new therapeutic interventions. Identifying important players in cancer stem cell growth and survival could provide important insights for the development of new therapeutic interventions for breast cancer patients.
Dr. Weiss and his team have discovered a role for a matrix metalloproteinase enzyme, which interacts with structural collagen in surrounding tissue, in controlling breast cancer’s ability to build new blood vessels and metastasize. Dr. Weiss and his team have also found factors that aid in the formation of breast cancer stem cells that can give rise to invasive disease.
Over the next year, Dr. Weiss and his team seek to further define the processes that support breast cancer stem cell generation and the factors that allow metastatic cells to resist almost all existing therapies. The identification of these key driving factors in breast cancer metastasis is central to the primary goal of identifying new therapeutic targets.
After completing his postdoctoral training at Washington University, Dr. Weiss was recruited to the University of Michigan in 1982 where he assumed the rank of Professor in 1988. In 1991, he was named as the first recipient of the Upjohn Professorship in Oncology, a position that he continues to hold. Dr. Weiss has also served as the Director of the Molecular Mechanisms of Disease Program and the Chief of the Division of Molecular Medicine & Genetics in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan as well as the Associate Director of Basic Science Research in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. In 2006, he joined the Life Sciences Institute as a Research Professor. He is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, National Academy of Medicine, and served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Dr. Weiss’ research efforts have long focused on the mechanisms used by breast cancer cells to remodel tissue structures during tumor progression, invasion and metastasis. His studies on the roles of transcription factors and proteolytic enzymes (particularly Snail family members and the membrane-anchored matrix metalloproteinases, respectively) in regulating these pathologic events in vitro and in vivo have appeared in top-ranked journals such as Science, Nature and Cell.
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