Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center

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

Research

Dr. Haber discovered cancer cells that are shed from a primary tumor and traverse through the bloodstream, known as circulating tumor cells (CTCs), hold the key to predicting cancer treatment response, resistance and cancer relapse. NFCR funding since 2004 has allowed Dr. Haber to further understand the importance of CTCs. He has developed a non-invasive fluorescent light analysis which permits characterization of unique genetic sequences of liver, breast, prostate and melanoma CTCs in the bloodstream. As a platform technology, a CTC-derived signal can be applied to virtually any cancer. The CTC-derived signal in patients is an excellent metric of early and reliable positive outcomes for patients with: 1) metastatic melanoma treated with immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy; 2) advanced localized prostate cancer identified as high-risk with poor survival in response to hormone therapy; 3) localized breast cancer prior to and during presurgical chemotherapy; and 4) metastatic breast cancer.

Analyses of patients with localized breast cancer showed that a high CTC signal was a significant predictor of higher residual disease at the time of surgery. The results for women with metastatic breast cancer indicated that patients with a low pre-treatment CTC signal that further decreases with treatment have improved overall survival. Dr. Haber’s technology of monitoring a patient’s CTC signals prior to and during treatment will better guide clinicians towards more effective, personalized cancer treatments and have a profound impact on the outcome for many cancer patients.

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, 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 and Cancer Cell, and has served as genetics editor for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Haber has been honored with the 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 American Association for Cancer Research.

Related Content

Research Highlight: Preventing Breast Cancer Brain Metastasis

National Foundation for Cancer Research funded researcher Dr. Daniel A Haber recently unearthed an exciting discovery that may add years to the lives of late-stage breast cancer patients. Dr. Haber is fascinated by understanding drug resistance on a deeper level by studying individual tumor cells in patients’ blood. In December 2020, Dr. Haber and his team shared their exciting findings on how brain metastasis, or the spread of cancer to the brain, may be prevented. Brain metastases occur in about 10% of all patients with cancer and in as many as a third of women with advanced metastatic breast cancer. Though experts have made great strides in suppressing the spread of cancer, there is still little known about the cellular pathways that enable cancer cells to selectively grow in the brain; that is, until Dr. Haber and his research team identified a signaling pathway which appeared significantly more active in brain metastases from breast cancer. “We were looking for what properties of some breast cancer cells made it possible for the cells to grow in the brain, which is a rare but often deadly complication of breast cancer,” Dr. Haber explained. “We weren’t sure what we would find. In a way that’s what makes the discovery process so exciting.” The research commenced approximately 10 years ago while investigating circulating tumor cells (CTCs). As their research progressed, the team homed in on a specific signaling pathway named HIF1A. Using cells from women with breast cancer, the team observed how these cells acted in animal models. It was discovered that if HIF1A was suppressed, the rate of proliferation (or rapid growth) was reduced. Simply put, blocking the HIF1A signaling pathway could reduce the rate of brain metastasis or even prevent it all together. “HIF1A is not specific to brain metastasis, since it’s a very broadly activated pathway in many cancers,” Dr. Haber began. “However, it appears to be more active in brain metastases from breast cancer than in primary breast cancers, and that may help explain what makes these metastases to the brain so unique and so difficult to treat.” The pathway identified in this research is already well known in the cancer world, however its special relevance to the brain was not known until now. Theoretically, a drug could be developed to suppress HIF1A and, in turn, prevent the spread of cancer. While a very promising discovery, Dr. Haber explains that there is far more work to be done. “There are a few HIF1A suppressing drugs now being tested in clinical trials for other indications,” Dr. Haber said, “However, we would have to expand this to multiple different models and systems before we could contemplate an intervention.” In regard to the length of time it takes to have a discovery such as this transitioned to mainstream treatment, Dr. Haber explains that it “depends on the discovery, its potential applications and some ‘luck’.” While the process from discovery to clinical treatment is getting faster all the time, it is likely going to take five to ten years before this finding is implemented into treatment. As for Dr. Haber, he has already planned plenty of work […]

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