You are here

BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The J.C. Penney Award

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. Studies suggest that they may be very informative in monitoring response to treatment as well as predicting risk of recurrence or metastasis (the spread of breast cancer from the initial tumor to distant sites).  However, CTCs are very rare in comparison to other cells in the circulation, making it very difficult to isolate and study them. Dr. Haber and colleagues have developed special system called 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 the coming year, they will isolate breast cancer cells from the blood of women with metastatic breast cancer and analyze the genes in individual tumor cells. These studies will provide new insight into the similarities and differences of circulating breast cancer cells including which genes are involved in metastasis and which are involved in different sites of metastatic spread (ie. bone versus liver or other sites). 

As a second part of the study, Dr. Haber’s team will attempt to culture breast CTCs in the laboratory. Culturing breast cancer cells from the circulation would greatly enhance our ability to monitor the changes in breast cancer genes in response to therapy and to test new therapies before administering them to a patient. If successful, this approach would ultimately allow physicians to pre-test a drug against a patient’s own tumor cells in the laboratory, and select a treatment program with the highest likelihood of success.


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.