Robert Weinberg on Deciding to Study Breast Cancer
  Robert Weinberg     Biography    
Recorded: 03 Jun 2016
So in 19…1992 - or so a fellow called Piotr Sicinski or Peter Sicinski came to my laboratory and I said ‘What do you want to do?’ And one day when we were driving up to a scientific retreat he said ‘I want to knock out certain genes in the mouse germ line, cyclins, they’re called, which enable cells to go through an entire cell cycle.’ I said ‘Well, that doesn’t seem very likely that that’ll be very interesting because if you knock out one or another cyclin genes that’s probably going to be a fatal change and you won’t even get embryos formed at all.’ But he stuck with it. After all, what did I know, and people usually take my advice with a grain of salt, which is good. And he found that when he knocked out the cyclin D1 gene in the mouse, then the mouse was actually pretty normal. Its retina was slightly abnormal, but it failed to develop a large mammary ductal tree upon pregnancy and therefore, the ability of the mammary gland to function normally was severely compromised in a mouse that lacked a gene and protein which otherwise would seem to be required everywhere throughout the body. But it was not. So that got us involved in the whole procedure of mammary gland manipulation. Implanting mammary epithelial cells into the mammary stromal fat pad, the work of Cathrin Brisken. So by the late 1990s, we had already become very versatile and well-equipped to study mammary epithelial cells - both normal and neoplastic and so that’s the reason that I work on breast cancer and it happens also to be the case, that there’s also funding to work on breast cancer. Because, before that time, it is said that women’s diseases neoplastic were ignored. By now, the amount of money spent on breast cancer research is probably ten or twenty times higher than the amount spent on prostate cancer research. What’s the number of men who die of prostate cancer every year compared to the number of women that die from breast cancer? It’s actually about the same. So the women’s breast cancer lobby has been very effective.

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.