2007 Bernard Fisher Lecture Will Feature Groundbreaking Cancer Researcher Weinberg

Issue Date: 
February 19, 2007

Robert A. Weinberg, whose groundbreaking research led to the first isolation of a gene that prompts normal healthy cells to develop into malignancies, will deliver the 2007 Bernard Fisher Lecture, named in honor of pioneering Pitt breast cancer researcher Bernard Fisher, at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 28.

Weinberg, a Pittsburgh native who is the Daniel K. Ludwig Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will give a free public lecture titled “Mechanisms Leading to the Formation of Human Tumors” in Scaife Hall’s Auditorium 6. A reception in 1105 Scaife Hall will follow the lecture.

“Dr. Weinberg’s remarkable career has helped elucidate some of the most fundamental issues regarding the genetic causes of cancer and the mechanisms of metastasis,” said Arthur S. Levine, Pitt senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine. “His visit will be a most fitting tribute to Dr. Fisher, whose research contributions involving breast cancer and its metastatic nature have achieved iconic stature.”

Best known for leading the efforts that isolated the first human oncogene—a gene that can cause normal cells to form tumors—and the first-known tumor-suppressor gene, Weinberg focuses his current research on human cancer cells’ ability to invade nearby tissues and disperse to distant sites in the body, generating metastases there. His lab has determined that tumor cells metastasize by awakening genes that are normally dormant after embryogenesis.

Metastasis is a particularly important subject for study, because 90 percent of cancer deaths result from metastasis rather than the original, primary tumor.

Weinberg, also a founding member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, recently was named head of MIT’s new Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology, which will investigate the biology of cancer metastasis. He has been a professor of biology at MIT since 1982, the same year he was named Discover magazine’s Scientist of the Year. Weinberg also is a winner of the National Medal of Science, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Lecture namesake Fisher, a 1943 graduate of Pitt’s medical school, is a Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery in the school. He also is past chair and scientific director of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project, a Pittsburgh-based research consortium that, in the late 1960s, found radical mastectomy to be no more effective than total mastectomy and, in turn, total mastectomy to be no more effective than lumpectomy in treating breast cancer.

In 1990, Fisher’s group went on to show the effectiveness of adjuvant chemotherapy and hormonal therapy (tamoxifen) in treating breast cancer as a systemic disease, not one that could be cured by surgery alone. In subsequent studies, he found that tamoxifen substantially reduces the incidence of breast cancer in high-risk women, providing evidence that breast cancer can be both treated and prevented.

Fisher’s many honors and awards include the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation’s Kettering Prize, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor, and the American Surgical Association Medallion for Scientific Achievement.