Albert Einstein College of Medicine
New York, New York
Distinguished Professor Emerita, Department of Molecular Pharmacology
Dr. Horwitz is a pioneer in cancer research, having significantly contributed to development of the anti-cancer drug Taxol®, a natural compound in the Pacific yew tree bark. She discovered how Taxol works to be an effective anti-cancer agent because it binds to a cell’s internal machinery, known as tubulin, and blocks the cancer cell’s ability to replicate. Taxol, one of the most widely prescribed chemotherapy agents, has treated over 1.5 million patients with breast, lung, ovarian, cervical and pancreatic cancers. While Taxol therapy is effective for many patients, resistance to the drug is a clinical problem.
With NFCR support since 2000, Dr. Horwitz discovered that cells express different forms of tubulin, and Taxol’s ability to effectively arrest cancer cell growth depends upon the tubulin type present in a patient’s cancer. Her team is investigating how Taxol interacts with all forms of tubulin which could become the basis to predict whether a patient’s tumor will be sensitive or resistant to the drug. Dr. Horwitz’s research efforts to use natural products for developing cancer therapeutics with minimal toxicity led the research community to discover an additional chemotherapy agent, discodermolide, isolated from a Caribbean Sea sponge. Discodermolide, while effective in killing cancer, is not used in patients due to lung toxicity. Dr. Horwitz and fellow NFCR scientist and chemist, Dr. Amos Smith III, are together leading the charge to create discodermolide variations which can effectively kill cancer without damaging the lungs and inducing an aggressive and drug-resistant property of cancer known as senescence. Development of a clinically adopted version of discodermolide may be effective in treating patients with triple negative breast cancer and other cancers.
Susan Band Horwitz, Ph.D., is a Distinguished Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She is also the co-chair of the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and the Rose C. Falkenstein Chair in Cancer Research.
Dr. Horwitz grew up in Boston, went to Bryn Mawr College and received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Brandeis University. Dr. Horwitz worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University’s Medical School and at Emory University’s School of Medicine. In 1967, she began work at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Dr. Horwitz’s key interest is finding cancer treatments using natural products as a source for new drugs.
Over the course of her career, Dr. Horwitz’s work has been published over 250 times, and she has received numerous accolades including: the C. Chester Stock Award from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize from Harvard Medical School; the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research; the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor; the AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research; the Canada Gairdner International Award; and the Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research.
Areas of Focus
Years of NFCR Funding
2000 – 2020
Breast Cancer Survivors Need to Take Actions to Reduce Their Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Nut-Consumption and Breast Cancer Survival
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the world and, although less common, it can also affect men. An estimated 284,200 new breast cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year, and tragically an estimated 44,130 deaths will occur. While screening and treatment options have become more advanced, it is still important for women to proactively reduce breast cancer risk factors. Thankfully, a team of renowned researchers recently discovered that breast cancer prevention could be as simple as eating a handful of trail mix. Connecting the Dots Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Shanghai Municipal Center of Disease Control and Prevention concluded that nut consumption appeared to be associated with higher survival rates among long-term breast cancer survivors. The researchers suggest emphasizing this finding as a modifiable lifestyle factor in survivor guidelines. The team came to this conclusion after analyzing associations of peanut and tree nut consumption with overall survival (OS) and disease-free survival (DFS) among 3,449 long-term breast cancer survivors aged 20 to 75 years who participated in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study. Of these participants, 3,148 women reported nut consumption, and 301 women reported no nut consumption. The researchers obtained a detailed dietary assessment, which the women completed at the 5-year post-diagnosis follow-up interview between October 2007 and October 2011. The team converted the consumption of nuts into grams per week and calculated total nut consumption as the sum of intake from peanuts, walnuts, and other nuts. Here’s what they found: Participants who consumed nuts regularly had higher rates of OS and DFS (by 4.7% and 7.9%, respectively) 10 years after diagnosis. There were positive associations of nut consumption with OS and DFS after a dose-response pattern for participants with greater-than-median (17.32 g per week) nut intake compared with non-consumers. The team explained that nuts are a common nutrient-dense food seen in healthy diets. As such, several studies have found nuts to be associated with reduced mortality, particularly mortality due to cardiovascular diseases, in the general population. Previously we knew little on whether the health benefits of nut intake extended to breast cancer survivors, particularly regarding the DFS. The goal of this study was to address this knowledge gap. Which nuts should you be eating? While the study mentions peanuts and walnuts by name, there are a variety of nuts that can offer cancer-fighting benefits. Here’s what experts at National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) have to say: Brazil nuts contain the richest source of natural selenium, a nutrient that may play a critical role in reducing the risk of certain cancers Walnuts have pedunculagin, a tannin that the body metabolizes into urolithins. Urolithins are compounds that bind to estrogen receptors and may play a role in preventing breast cancer. Related NFCR-Supported Research NFCR-funded researchers also point out that while eating cancer-fighting foods is a great step, there are other essential factors to include to prevent various cancers – including breast cancer. Exercise and regular screening (where applicable) are vital in preventing and treating cancer. Recently, NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Rakesh Jain and his team at Massachusetts General […]