University of Kansas Cancer Center

Kansas City, Kansas
Professor, Department of Cancer Biology
Hall Family Professorship in Molecular Medicine
Adjunct faculty of Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology

Research

Dr. Welch is a leader in the field of cancer metastasis. With support from NFCR since 1996, his team is identifying the mechanisms underlying how cancer spreads (metastasis) throughout the body from a primary tumor. Metastasized cancer leads to pain, weight loss, bleeding and impairment of organ function. More importantly, nearly 90% of cancer related deaths are due to metastasized cancer. Dr. Welch is leading a novel charge to prevent the spread of cancer by predicting how and what triggers the initiation of metastasis. He and his team are using state-of-the-art molecular biology techniques to explore the expression of biomarkers produced by metastatic and non-metastatic cancer cells in order to predict which cancer will metastasize. In addition, Dr. Welch and his laboratory discovered eight genes that get turned off when cancer cells become metastatic cells and can lead to therapeutics that arrest metastasis.

This two-pronged approach will permit Dr. Welch to not only develop novel metastatic cancer markers to assess a patient’s likelihood of developing metastasis, but also to develop unique anti-metastasis therapies. His current research regarding cancer metastasis has high impact for patients with breast, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, kidney and skin cancer.

Bio

Danny R. Welch, Ph.D., received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of California at Irvine and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas-Houston in tumor biology. Following his doctoral research, he became a research scientist at the Upjohn Company and Glaxo pharmaceuticals. At both companies, he was responsible for pre-clinical testing of anti-cancer drugs. In 1990, he joined the faculty of the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine where he ascended the faculty ranks to the level of Associate Professor. In 2002, Dr. Welch joined the faculty of the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a Professor of Pathology and Director of the Metastasis Program at the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

From 2002-2018, Dr. Welch led the NFCR Center for Cancer Metastasis. In 2011, he founded the Department of Cancer Biology at Kansas University Medical Center. Moreover, Dr. Welch is a Komen scholar and president of the Cancer Biology Training Consortium. He has served on numerous grant review panels for the National Institutes of Health, Department Of Defense, American Cancer Society the Susan G. Komen organization, the European Union and other international agencies.

Dr. Welch has served as editor-in-chief for Clinical and Experimental Metastasis and is currently a deputy editor at Cancer Research. He is also co-editor of the textbook Cancer Metastasis. Throughout his career, Dr. Welch has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed publications and more than 35 book chapters, and he’s the recipient of numerous mentoring and teaching awards.

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The prevalence of skin cancer is rising at an alarming rate, with melanoma being the deadliest. Melanoma is renowned for quickly spreading to other organs (or metastasizing), drastically decreasing the likelihood of survival. Being able to stop the spread of melanoma cells is essential to save the lives of many patients; however, no researcher has been able to solve the puzzle – until now. With long-term support from the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR), Dr. Daniel Haber and his team developed the CTC-iChip – a medical device to capture the few circulating tumor cells (CTCs) present in a standard blood sample from a patient. Circulating tumor cells are tumor cells that have become detached from the primary tumor and enter the blood circulation. While CTCs occur once in a billion cells and are extremely rare, they nevertheless may hold the key to metastasis—the stage responsible for most cancer deaths. Dr. Haber and his team developed methods to analyze the genes in CTCs, providing a liquid biopsy and an invaluable window into a patient’s cancer in real-time. Doctors may efficiently obtain critical information from their patient’s CTCs for life-saving treatment decisions in advanced cancer with the liquid biopsy. Though this significant breakthrough sparked excitement throughout the oncology world, Dr. Haber continued digging for more pieces to the puzzle. He honed in on the unique makeup of CTCs to understand what fueled the spread of these deadly cells and what inhibited it. Using samples from melanoma patients, the team found that the unique lipogenesis regulator (referred to as SREBP2) held an important role in combating the growth of CTCs. SREBP2 directly induces transcription of the iron carrier, which kicks off a chain reaction at a cellular level. This chain reaction causes resistance to ferroptosis inducers, a type of programmed cell death. The ability to manufacture these chain reactions within CTCs opens up a realm of therapeutic opportunities for patients with metastatic melanoma. While this discovery is highly significant in the war on cancer, it is only just the beginning of understanding how to reduce melanoma metastasis. Dr. Haber remains committed to solving more pieces of the puzzle. To support the work of Dr. Haber and other world-renowned researchers, please make a gift today. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: New Drug Makes Unresectable or Metastatic Ocular Cancer Treatable Catching Cancer Cells on Their Way to Spreading Detecting Skin Cancer with Artificial Intelligence and Other Game-Changing Technologies in Cancer Stay connected with the cancer community! Receive NFCR’s monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more. Sign up here.