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BCRF Grantee Since


Area(s) of Focus

Daniel A. Haber, MD, PhD

Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
Isselbacher/Schwartz Professor of Oncology
Harvard Medical School
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts

Current Research

Circulating tumor cells (CTC) are tumor cells that have become detached from the primary tumor and entered the circulation. Although very rare in the blood, these cancer cells hold the key to understanding the process of cancer metastasis. In addition, they provide a source of cancer cells that can be sampled from breast cancer patients in “real time”, allowing doctors to monitor response and adjust therapy without having to perform repeated biopsies. Dr. Haber and colleagues have developed a special system called a microfluidic chip to capture minute amounts of CTCs and are now able to use the system to ask critical questions about the biology of metastatic breast cancer. In recent work, they have shown that they can culture CTCs (grow them in the laboratory) from the blood of some patients with breast cancer, analyze them for genetic abnormalities and test them for sensitivity to different therapies. This work opens the door to the possibility of testing treatment regimens in cancer cells harvested from individual patients, before exposing the patients themselves to therapies with uncertain benefit. In the coming year, Dr. Haber and his team will extend these studies to develop more efficient ways to culture CTCs so that they can be studied for differences from the primary tumor and tested for response to treatments. Collectively, these studies will lead the way to new strategies for designing individualized treatments for breast cancer.


Dr. Daniel Haber is Director of the MGH Cancer Center and the Isselbacher/Schwartz Professor of Oncology at Harvard Medical School. His laboratory interests have focused on the area of cancer genetics, including the etiology of the pediatric kidney cancer Wilms tumor and genetic predisposition to breast cancer. In collaboration with Dr. Mehmet Toner’s laboratory, Dr. Haber’s laboratory has recently established the application of a novel microfluidic technology for quantifying and purifying circulating tumor cells from the blood of patients with various epithelial cancers. This new application has potentially profound implications for early diagnosis of cancer and for noninvasive molecular profiling of cancers during the course of therapy.