How Cancer Begins

If you’re worried about getting cancer, do yourself a favor: steer clear of red meat and rich foods, and avoid cigarettes. In this lecture, Robert Weinberg provides the scientific basis for this commonplace advice, as well as a layman’s look at the genetic, biochemical and environmental factors that make good cells go bad.
Normal cells are civic-minded, lining up together in a precise architecture that gives structure to body tissue. When the cell’s genes are damaged, they send out faulty instructions, turning orderly structure into a chaotic mess. This kind of injury to cells likely comes from the outside – as many as 90% of human cancers are due to bad diets and smoking. Weinberg wants to understand the specific pathways by which the cells’ enemies invade and do their damage, in hopes of then being able to halt the process and freeze a cancer’s growth. But, cautions Weinberg, better to count on prevention than a cure in the fight against cancer.




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About the Speaker

Robert A. Weinberg '64, PhD '69

Founding Member, MIT Center for Cancer Research

Member, Whitehead Institute Daniel K. Ludwig and American Cancer Society Professor for Cancer Research
Department of Biology

Robert A. Weinberg has earned some of the top honors in his field. Most recently, he won the 2006 Landon-AACR Prize for Basic and Translational Cancer Research. He is also a 1997 National Medal of Science awardee.


Weinberg's laboratory discovered the first human oncogene and the first tumor suppressor gene. Today, much of his research focuses on new models of breast cancer development including the stages of tumor invasiveness and metastasis.


He earned his Ph.D. in biology from MIT in 1969, and was one of the Founding Members of the MIT Center for Cancer Research in 1973. He was appointed a professor at MIT in 1982, the same year he joined the Whitehead Institute. Weinberg was named American Cancer Society Research Professor in 1985 and received the Daniel K. Ludwig Professorship for Cancer Research in 1997. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.

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