Chris Benz, MD, Professor
Understanding the link between aging and breast cancer in order to develop better treatments and prevention strategies
Dr. Benz is a practicing oncologist and researcher seeking improved treatments for breast cancer. He obtained his MD from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and took advanced postdoctoral training at Yale University School of Medicine after his internship and residency. He has held faculty positions at Yale and the University of California San Francisco. Dr. Benz joined the Buck Institute in 2000 as a founding faculty member. He continues his oncology practice at UCSF’s Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, and is a senior member of the UCSF Cancer Center’s Breast Oncology Program. Dr. Benz is also the co-principal investigator of the Buck Institute-UCSC Genome Data Analysis Center, one of seven national centers in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) program. In this effort he works closely with distinguished UC Professor of Biomolecular Engineering, Dr. David Haussler, deciphering TCGA cancer genomes in order to move us closer to personalized cancer care. Both men appear in this video.
Dr. Benz recently spoke at a TEDx conference in Madagascar. The conference was sponsored by the Akbaraly Foundation, which fights against breast and gynecological cancers among women in the African nation.
The Benz lab was among the first to study why age is such an important determinant for the onset and development of breast cancer. In a search for personalized treatments targeted to each patient’s individual breast cancer subtype, he explores the genetic and structural differences among different breast cancers. Using model breast cancer cell systems, Dr. Benz looks for these individual variations primarily in the two major pathways linked to breast cancer. In the activated pathway most commonly causing breast cancers after age 50, the tumor cells make excess amounts of the estrogen receptor (ER) protein. Breast cancer can also develop in women at any age via another activated pathway, caused by a genetic abnormality that results in excess production of the ErbB2/HER2 receptor protein. Both the ER and ErbB2/HER2 receptor pathways in breast tumors can vary from one patient to another. Over a decade ago Dr. Benz designed and developed a novel treatment that specifically targets ErbB2/HER2 activated breast cancers, and that therapeutic is finally entering clinical trials this year (MM-302; Merrimack Pharmaceuticals). Dr. Benz predicts that newly discovered differences in the ER and ErbB2/HER2 will yield many more novel therapeutics, and a variety of new companion diagnostics.
Shortly after his move to the Buck Institute, Dr. Benz was instrumental in organizing the Marin Women’s Study (MWS), which was officially launched in 2006 to detect lifestyle patterns and individual biofactors contributing to breast cancer risk in Marin County, where incidence rates of the ER-positive form of this disease are among the highest in the world. By helping to alert Marin women about the hazards of taking combination hormonal therapy (estrogen plus progestin) at menopause, the MWS was able to document a sharp decline in hormone use and a resulting 33% reduction in new breast cancer cases.
Dr. Benz welcomes media inquiries on the following subjects:
Breast cancer, breast cancer and aging.
“For women, aging is the single greatest risk factor for developing breast cancer. By understanding the different molecular and genetic subtypes of breast cancer and why aging affects the development of some but not others, new prevention strategies can be designed that will eliminate this deadly disease that primarily arises in women after age 50.”
- Chris Benz, MD