Cancer Cell Biology
Area of interest
Our laboratory is interested in understanding the fundamental mechanism by which mammalian cells activate the programmed cell death pathway and undergo apoptosis. Defect in the ability of cells to undergo apoptosis is a major factor that leads to carcinogenesis. We are particularly interested in identifying differences in the apoptotic pathway between mitotic and postmitotic cells. To study this, we use a variety of models including primary neurons, stem cells and cancer cells.
One major focus in the lab is to understand how caspases become activated during apoptosis. Caspase proteases are the central executors of apoptosis; once activated, caspases cleave specific cellular proteins and induce rapid cell death.
We have identified multiple mechanisms by which caspase activation is strictly inhibited in postmitotic cells. An increased control of apoptosis is particularly beneficial for postmitotic cells as they have limited regenerative potential and the need for long-term survival. Strikingly, we found that these mechanisms are also utilized by cancer cells to evade apoptosis. Ongoing research is focused on studying these and identifying other novel mechanisms of apoptosis control in mammalian cells.
Awards and Honors
- Burroughs Wellcome New Investigator Award (2001-2003)
- UNC Chapel Hill Teaching Excellence Award (2004)
- Editorial Board, Cell Death and Differentiation (Nature Publishing Group) 2007-present
- Editorial Board, Oncogene (Nature Publishing Group) 2009- present
- Mentor of the Year Award (Neurobiology Curriculum), UNC Chapel Hill (2012)