Titles and Affiliations

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
Research Professor
Life Sciences Institute
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Research area

Validating new therapeutic targets to prevent metastatic breast cancer.


Aggressive breast cancers arise as a result of cancer 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. Cancer stem cells allow the cancer to seed new tissues and to adapt to the new tissue environment by recruiting new blood vessels to provide oxygen and nutrients and to evade the immune system. 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. 

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Weiss and his team have discovered a previously unsuspected process by which human breast cancer stem cells develop and have begun characterizing some of the key factors that support their generation. In complementary studies, they have also defined key portions of the molecular circuitry that allows stem cells to respond to the growth factors critical for their maintenance. 

What’s next

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 are central to the primary goal of identifying new therapeutic targets and clinically useful drug interventions. 


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

BCRF Investigator Since