Pharmacology and Toxicology Students Host Robert Weinberg

On April 9, 2013 by Grad Forum

Invasive human breast cancer

Each year, graduate students in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine (PEMM) invite a leader in their field to Dartmouth to give a seminar talk. This year, students chose between several candidates, finally selecting Dr. Robert Weinberg.

Dr. Weinberg is a founding member and current faculty of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an internationally recognized authority on the genetic basis of human cancer. His lab is credited for discovery of the first oncogene (cancer-causing gene) and the first

tumor suppressor gene. He is the author of more than 390 scientific peer-reviewed articles and of the renowned textbook The Biology of Cancer. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and recent recipient of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

Twenty-five pharmacology and toxicology graduate students had the honor of dining with Dr. Weinberg at the Norwich Inn on Thursday, March 28th. They had the chance to converse with him about various topics ranging from science to the cultural diversity of the graduate department. The students commented on his modest nature and genuine interest in getting to know all who attended the dinner. He circled the room multiple times throughout the evening in order to interact with all of the students.

On Friday, March 29th, Dr. Weinberg met with various members within the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, as well as the dean of the Geisel School of Medicine, Dean Wiley Souba. That afternoon, Dr. Weinberg presented his work to a very packed audience in Chilcott Auditorium. Students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty within the Geisel School of Medicine and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center were in attendance. He spoke on his latest findings, which describe how a breast cancer cell can metastasize (spread) to different organs within the body.

Dr. Weinberg’s current research interests are primarily involved in determining the molecular mechanisms by which breast cancer cells acquire an aggressive phenotype, most notably through the process of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). EMT is defined as the reversible switch of epithelial cells to a more migratory mesenchymal cell morphology. This process allows cells to exit the primary tumor site and enter the circulation where they can then spread to a distant site and colonize another organ. EMT is thought to be the master regulator of metastasis, which is the primary cause of mortality in breast cancer patients.

The audience was captivated by Dr. Weinberg’s energetic and humorous personality. Those who attended ranked it as one of the best talks they have heard in their time at Dartmouth. Fourth-year PEMM student, Andrew DeCastro, remarked, “I was extremely impressed with Dr. Weinberg’s breadth of knowledge and world class research, but more importantly, I was struck by his modesty and willingness to interact with all of the students within our department.”  Overall the event was a great success!

by Amanda Balboni and Andrew DeCastro

photos Whitehead Institute/Chris Sanchez Photography 

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