Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center

Boston, Massachusetts
Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
Professor of Oncology,  Harvard Medical School

Research

Dr. Haber is a renowned leader on genetic abnormalities of cancer – from inherited mutations (with familial predisposition) to mutations that are acquired by tumors themselves. With NFCR funding since 2000, his research aims to guide targeted drug therapies.

His current NFCR-supported work focuses on circulating tumor cells (CTCs) that are shed from a primary tumor and metastatic sites and then enter the bloodstream. CTCs are rare in numbers and only a few are lurking between the millions of healthy cells in a standard blood sample.

He and his collaborators developed the CTC-iChip—an advanced micro-engineered device that captures the few CTCs present in a patient’s blood sample. Their research has developed methods to culture viable CTCs to increase their numbers, conduct genetic testing and other tests, which results can dramatically improve treatment and diagnosis for patients with many types of cancers.

The CTC-iChip is already used in some clinical research laboratories and will be submitted for FDA-approval. Oncologists can then use the blood test to obtain results to make timely life-saving treatment decisions for their patients.

CTCs may be present in the bloodstream early in the origin cancer and can lodge within distant organs and remain dormant (resting state), only to be reactivated after many years, giving rise to metastatic cancer. Utilizing the powerful CRISPR gene-editing tool (whose discoverers were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2020), Dr. Haber is identifying the genes in models of metastatic breast cancer that control CTCs’ ability to enter into dormancy and then reactivate. His team has identified one protein that dramatically enhances the metastatic propensity of CTCs. Every single gene in the entire genome is being interrogated in these CRISPR screens.

Dr. Haber’s groundbreaking research on metastatic breast cancer could ultimately develop treatments that target the genes and suppress reactivation of resting cancer cells. Thousands of patients would be given hope that the return of their cancer many years later could be prevented.

Bio

Daniel A. Haber, M.D., Ph.D., is the Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center and a professor of oncology at Harvard Medical School. He received his Bachelor and Master degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and received a M.D. and Ph.D. from Stanford University School of Medicine. Following his schooling, Dr. Haber conducted his postdoctoral training at MIT and joined the Harvard Medical School faculty in 1991 as an assistant professor.

Dr. Haber is most interested in the area of cancer genomics, including the study of circulating tumor cells, the Wilms tumor and genetic predisposition to breast cancer.

In addition to his award with NFCR, Dr. Haber is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Science, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, on the Board of Directors for the American Association for Cancer Research and a member of the Association of American Physicians and the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He is also on the editorial boards of Cell, Cancer Cell, Molecular Cancer Research and Cancer Discovery and has served as genetics editor for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Haber has been honored with numerous awards such as the inaugural National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Professorship in Basic Cancer Research, a MERIT Award from the National Cancer Institute, the Emil Freireich Award from MD Anderson Cancer Center, Stand Up to Cancer Dream Team Award, a Dream Team Award from the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the Sternlicht Award from Case Western Reserve and the Hinda Rosenthal Award for Translational Research from the AACR.

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There’s a paradigm shift taking place in the world of cancer treatment. Experts are moving away from an organ-focused approach to treatment, like using radiation to treat the specific area affected by cancer. Instead, they’re looking at genomic sequencing.  Genomics is the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of an individual’s genes. Regarding cancer, genomics allows experts to examine DNA to determine an individual’s risk of cancer through genomic sequencing. This means that oncologists can provide more individualized treatment options for patients using precision medicine.  How can cancer risk be determined through genomic sequencing? Parents pass along many traits to their children, such as hair and eye color. Unfortunately, the risk of developing certain types of cancer can also pass along. By examining DNA, experts can identify certain changes in a person’s DNA known for increasing their risk of developing various types of cancer. However, not all cancers pass genetically. In fact, only five to ten percent of all cancers are believed to have an inherited gene mutation. It is important to note that no test can provide exact answers about a person’s inherited cancer risk. Genetic testing can tell whether a specific genetic mutation exists in the DNA. However, it cannot tell whether an individual will develop the disease associated with that mutation later in life or not. What is the benefit of genomic sequencing? Genomic sequencing cannot prevent a cancer diagnosis but can help identify cancer-related DNA mutations. This means an individual can implement precautionary measures. These measures could include making healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, ceasing smoking, or reducing alcohol consumption. Depending on the type of mutation, medications may be available to reduce one’s risk of developing cancer. Similarly, genomic sequencing may highlight the option of surgery to remove an organ or gland to prevent cancer from forming or promote undergoing more health screenings regularly.  Who should utilize genomic sequencing? Experts typically only recommend genetic sequencing for patients whose families have a history of certain cancers or patterns of cancer. Doctors may order genetic testing for people that have: Multiple first-degree relatives with cancer diagnoses; Numerous relatives who have been diagnosed with the same cancer on one side of the family; A family history of cancers linked to a single gene mutation, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or pancreatic cancer; Family member(s) who has been diagnosed with more than one type of cancer; Family member(s) who has been diagnosed with cancer at a younger age than typically seen for that cancer, such as colon cancer; Close relatives who have been diagnosed with cancers linked to rare hereditary cancer syndromes, such as Hereditary Breast & Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC), Cowden Syndrome, or Lynch Syndrome; or Family member(s) who has been diagnosed with rare cancer, such as breast cancer in a male. Can we expect more research in genomic sequencing?  National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is committed to advancing genomic research and its potential to be the future of developing treatment plans for cancer patients. As such, NFCR funds a dozen world-renowned researchers paving the way in genomic research. […]

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