Recorded: 03 Jun 2016
Well, that 2004 paper was actually quite influential because it persuaded people that a gene like twist – which I mentioned before, was responsible or played a significant role in metastatic dissemination. And it was known from work of other people that twist was actually responsible for choreographing the process of gastrulation in an early embryo, where the cells on the outside of the embryo will go into the middle of the embryo and form the internal organs, for example. And that migration involves the change of the cells of the outside of the embryo from an epithelial state like the cells on our skin to a mesenchymal state like the connective tissue cells under our skin – and is therefore called an epithelial-mesenchymal transition or EMT. And that’s suggested the idea that activation of the EMT in carcinoma cells might provide an indication, a clue, a mechanism for how primary carcinoma cells can actually metastasize and so in the years that followed we demonstrated, not yet in a totally definitive way, that simply by turning on a gene or protein like twist or a snail or a slug or a zip, these are all involved in orchestrating the EMT, the epithelial-mesenchymal transition, you can actually enable primary cancer cells to spread to distant sites in the body.
Robert "Bob" Weinberg is Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research and director of the Ludwig Cancer Center at MIT, an American Cancer Society Research Professor, and is a founding member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
In 1982 he was one of the scientists to discover the first human oncogene, Ras, which causes normal cells to form tumors, and his lab also isolated the first known tumor suppressor gene, Rb.
He co-authored with Douglas Hanahan the landmark "Hallmarks of Cancer" paper in 2000, which laid out the six requirements for a healthy cell to become cancerous.