Faculty Interests

The faculty of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology have a broad range of research interests. A succinct synopsis of each faculty member's interests is provided below. Visit the individual homepages for detailed descriptions of their research, recent publications, and additional information about their laboratory.

Tenured/Tenure Track Faculty

Vytas A. Bankaitis, Ph.D.

Professor

Dr. Bankaitis' laboratory is involved in the molecular characterization of novel signal transduction pathways in eukaryotic cells that interface with neurodegeneration, cellular differentiation and membrane trafficking. They bring modern approaches to analysis of these issues, and such approaches include molecular biology, protein and lipid biochemistry, immunofluorescence microscopy, mouse gene knockout technology, and classical and molecular genetics in model organisms such as mice and yeast.

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James E. Bear, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

My lab focuses on actin-based cell motility. Actin-based motility is a key component in many cellular processes relevant to clinical problems such as cancer metastasis, birth defects and compromised immune function. We are using both molecule-based and unbiased genetic/proteomic approaches to understand the fundamental problem of cell migration and other aspects of actin-based motility. We utilize the techniques of high-resolution live cell microscopy, biochemistry, gene silencing/disruption and other molecular manipulations to uncover some of the underlying mechanisms of cell motility.

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Con Beckers, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Dr. Beckers' research revolves around the human protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This organism can cause severe disease in individuals with a defective immune system or during pregnancy. In addition, it is also used as a model system for study of the closely related malaria parasite, Plasmodium. Both organisms are obligate intracellular parasites of animals and have evolved numerous unique regulatory and structural elements to penetrate and survive inside animal cells. We are concentrating our efforts on two general areas of Toxoplasma gondii cell biology: essential signaling pathways in the parasite and the structure, assembly, and function of its membrane skeleton.

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Jay Brenman, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

The Brenman lab studies how cells relate the activity of a universal energy and stress sensor, AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) to cellular function and signaling. AMPK is proposed to be a therapeutic target for Type 2 diabetes and Metabolic syndrome (obesity, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease). In addition, AMPK can be activated by LKB1, a gene mutated in a human tumor syndrome called Peutz Jeghers. Thus AMPK signaling is not only relevant to diabetes but also cancer. We are particularly interested in how AMPK contributes to neurodegeneration, metabolism/cardiac disease and cancer.

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Patrick J. Brennwald, Ph.D.

Professor

Dr. Brennwald's laboratory is interested in the mechanism by which eukaryotic cells are polarized. In particular they are interested in the polarization of the plasma membrane and the role of vesicle transport plays in the determination and regulation of cell polarity.

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Keith Burridge, Ph.D.

Professor

Dr. Burridge's laboratory is interested in the signaling that occurs downstream from integrin-mediated focal adhesions and cadherin-mediated cell-cell adhesions. Much of our effort is directed at understanding Rho family GTPases, how these regulate adhesion and the cytoskeleton and how their activity is, in turn, regulated by adhesion and other factors.

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M. Joseph Costello, Ph.D.

Professor

Dr. Costello's laboratory is examining the intercellular junctions between fibers in normal and cataractous lenses using light and electron microscopy. The goal is to determine the basis for normal lens transparency and the cellular changes that occur in aging and cataract formation.

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Douglas Cyr, Ph.D.

Professor

Dr. Cyr's laboratory endeavors to define the basic principles of chaperone assisted protein folding and degradation in eukaryotic cells. They seek to gain a mechanistic understanding of how defective protein folding causes cystic fibrosis and neurodegeneration. Model systems the Cyr group utilizes to study protein triage include cultured cells, yeast and purified components. The information obtained is being utilized to design screens for small molecules that correct disease related protein folding abnormalities.

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Mohanish Deshmukh, Ph.D.

Professor

Dr. Deshmukh's research interests are in understanding how mammalian cells undergo programmed cell death during development and disease. His laboratory studies the signaling pathways and the molecular events that induce apoptosis, with a specific interest in identifying unique aspects of this pathway in various primary cells such as neurons, cardiomyocytes, myotubes, and stem cells, as well as in cancer cells.

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Rafael García-Mata

Research Assistant Professor

Dr. García-Mata's lab focuses on the mechanisms that control the targeting and regulated activation of Rho-GTPases. These processes have been shown to play essential roles both in normal cell function, as well as in abnormal cell behavior, including metastasis, atherosclerosis, inflammation and hypertension.

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Kurt Gilliland, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Dr. Gilliland studies the normal human lens as well as age-related nuclear cataracts using confocal and electron microscopy. He also co-directs "Structure and Development" and teaches "Integrative Function and Its Cellular Basis".

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Stephanie Gupton, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

We are interested in the coordination and regulation of cytoskeletal dynamics and membrane trafficking that underlie cell shape change and cell motility during both development and cancer metastasis, and hypothesize that there will be many commonalities between these two systems. We utilize a variety techniques including high resolution live cell microscopy, gene disruption, mouse models, and biochemistry to understand the complex coordination of these subcellular machines driving shape change and motility in primary cell culture models, tissue culture models as well as in the developing vertebrate nervous system.

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Scott M. Hammond, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Research in the past decade has uncovered a vast number of non-coding regulatory RNAs. One class of short non-coding RNAs, called microRNAs, bind to target mRNAs and regulate translation and turnover of the mRNA. Other non-coding RNA classes interact with chromatin, regulating gene transcription. The research in my lab is focused on the biochemical and biological pathways of non-coding RNAs, and the proteins they partner with.

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Kenneth A. Jacobson, Ph.D.

Professor

Membrane dynamics: The study of lipid rafts in model and biomembranes using new biophysical techniques for light microscopy. Cell migration: The study of how component activities [protrusion, adhesion and contractility] and their molecular origins are integrated to produce the forces that move and shape the cell.

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Edward T. Kernick, D.P.M.

Assistant Professor

Dr. Kernick teaches human anatomy and neuroanatomy to the first year medical, dental and physical therapy students. He is particularly interested in how the central nervous system modulates motor control of limb muscles.

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Jean M. Lauder, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus

Jean Lauder studies neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) as regulatory signals in development using animal models like sea urchins and mutant mice. Studies of the effects of prenatal exposure to drugs or environmental agents on brain development and behavior in mutant mice have provided models for the role of gene-environment interactions in developmental disorders, like autism. Using sea urchin embryos, which are highly sensitive to drugs and neurotoxins that target early development, deleterious effects of drugs and neurotoxins on early embryonic development have been investigated. Ongoing studies utilizing bioinformatic approaches to mine genomes of sea urchins and other species are providing insights into the evolutionary history of early neurotransmitter systems.

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Ben Major, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Although initiated by genetic mutation, the unchecked proliferation, aberrant differentiation, and altered motility of cancer cells depends upon the integrity and activation state of specific signal transduction pathways. Our laboratory is interested in understanding how alterations in these signaling pathways contribute to human cancer, and whether exploitation of that understanding can aid in the development of new diagnostics, prognostics and therapeutic intervention strategies. To this end, we employ a global “systems level” integrative discovery platform, one that has as a foundation mass spectrometry-based proteomic interaction networks.

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Deborah A. O'Brien, Ph.D.

Professor

The O’Brien lab investigates molecular and cellular mechanisms that regulate spermatogenesis, sperm motility and fertilization. Our studies use the male reproductive system as a model to investigate fundamental processes that control differentiation. In terms of human health, the long-term goal of these studies is to provide new insights for the development of contraceptives, the clinical management of infertility, and the assessment of reproductive toxicants in the male.

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Michael G. O'Rand, Ph.D.

Professor

Dr. O'Rand is a professor in the Department and a member of the Laboratories for Reproductive Biology, a campus wide core facility and training program in reproductive biology.

The long-term goal of our research is to define a set of sperm molecules that are necessary for one or more steps in the fertilization process. Characterization of these molecules will allow the definition of precise targets for both infertility diagnosis and contraception.

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Peter Petrusz, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor

Effects of hormones on brain and reproductive system.

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John S Reader, D.Phil.

Assistant Professor

Dr. Reader’s main interest is the protein translation apparatus with a particular focus on aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases and tRNAs. Research in this area is fundamental to our understanding of the molecular and evolutionary processes that have led to the development and translation of the genetic code. He also applies these studies towards the creation of novel therapeutics for the treatment of disease.

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Aldo Rustioni, M.D.

Professor

The focus of research in the Rustioni laboratory is on glutamate receptors and an understanding of how different subunits of the receptors may contribute to define the quality of somesthesic stimulus, i.e. pain, touch, etc. Dr. Rustioni is especially interested, at the moment, also in the issue of presynaptic glutamate receoptors in primary afferent terminals in the spinal cord. For this research they use primarily immunocytochemistry on sections of the spinal cord and imaging for multiple, simultaneous labelling for transmitters, receptors, and selective functional markers.

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Kathleen K. Sulik, Ph.D.

Professor

Research in Dr. Sulik's laboratory focuses on the pathogenesis and mechanisms underlying birth defects induced by environmental and genetic factors. Of particular interest has been identification of selectively vulnerable cell populations and mechanistic studies directed toward determining the basis for their sensitivity to teratogenesis.

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Ellen R. Weiss, Ph.D.

Professor

Dr. Weiss’s laboratory is interested in visual signaling in the vertebrate retina. Their work addresses the important questions of how the light-sensing neurons (photoreceptor cells) of the visual system maintain sensitivity in a natural environment of continuously changing light intensities.

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Non-Tenure Track Faculty

James Alb, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Dr. Alb utilizes gene knockout technology in both cells and mice to study a class of proteins called phosphatidylinositol transfer proteins (PITPs). These proteins are thought to play key roles in lipid signaling events in the nucleus, Golgi, and cell surface. The knockout experiments Dr. Alb has performed to date have led to a new understanding of the roles these proteins play both cellularly and in whole animal studies.

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Martina Gentzsch, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Cystic fibrosis is a disease of defective epithelial salt and fluid transport that is caused by mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR). CFTR functions as a chloride channel in the apical membrane of epithelial cells and also regulates other ion channels. Dr. Gentzsch studies the biosynthetic processing and intracellular trafficking of CFTR. Of particular interest is the trafficking of the most common mutant protein in cystic fibrosis (DF508 CFTR) that is retained at the ER but can escape and proceed to the Golgi and plasma membrane by growth of cells at reduced temperature or other manipulations.

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Gerald W. Gordon, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Dr. Gordon is a Research Associate Professor in the Cell and Molecular Imaging Facility.

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Linda Levitch, Ph.D.

Lecturer

Dr. Levitch teaches gross anatomy to medical, dental, and physical therapy students.

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Shoji Osawa, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Dr. Osawa's research studies the regulatory mechanisms of signal transduction by G protein-coupled receptors using the visual system as a model. His research addresses the reasons for differences in signal termination observed for rods and cones by examining the biochemical properties of the proteins involved in phototransduction in both cell types.

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Richard Richardson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Dr. Richardson uses molecular biology to study mammalian fertilization and factors originating from the testis and epididymis that play roles in gamete recognition and fertilization. Current studies involve NASP, a cell-cycle regulated protein involved in histone storage and/or transport in the testis and somatic cells.

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Juli Valtschanoff, M.D.

Professor

Dr. Valtschanoff's primary research interest is in elucidating the role of vanilloid receptors (TRPV) in the mediation of pain perception in the dorsal horn of mammals. Recently, this line of research has expanded to include the study of nociception in animal models of cystitis and arthritis. Other interests include amino acid neurotransmitters and receptors, nitric oxide, the molecular organization of the postsynaptic density and the functional role of the protein palladin in reactive astrocytes and glial scar formation after injury to the central nervous system.

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Richard Weinberg, Ph.D.

Professor

Dr. Weinberg's research concerns the organization of synapses in the central nervous system. Focusing on excitatory synapses, Dr. Weinberg has developed quantitative techniques to identify different types of glutamate receptors, to explore how changes in these receptors may be involved in synaptic plasticity.

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Joint Faculty

Larry Ostrowski, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Dr. Ostrowski’s research interests are broadly focused on the role of ciliated airway epithelial cells in health and disease. Project areas include the regulation of ciliated cell differentiation and gene expression, the identification of novel ciliary proteins by both molecular biology and proteomics approaches, the regulation of ciliary beat frequency, gene therapy approaches for cystic fibrosis and primary ciliary dyskinesia, and the response of ciliated cells to inhaled toxins or pathogens.

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Cam Patterson, Ph.D.

Professor

The Patterson laboratory uses molecular, genetic, and physiologic approaches to ask questions regarding events that underlie the processes of angiogenesis, vascular development, cardiac failure, and atherosclerosis. Our laboratory employs a wide range of methods, including standard molecular techniques, gene discovery applications, genetically modified animals, and microphysiologic techniques. We have a particular interest in understanding the genes that regulate angiogenesis, identifying stress-responsive genes that modify cardiac function, and characterizing oxidative pathways in atherogenesis.

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Carla M P Ribeiro, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Dr. Ribeiro’s laboratory focuses on studying mechanisms of airway inflammatory responses relevant to the pathogenesis of airway diseases characterized by mucus obstruction, inflammation, and oxidative stress, such as cystic fibrosis (CF), asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In particular, we study the functional roles of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the mitochondria in the regulation of intracellular calcium (Ca2+i) signals and Ca2+i-mediated airway epithelial inflammation. We also investigate the functional importance of the Unfolded Protein Response, a form of ER stress, in inflammatory responses linked to the pathophysiology of CF, asthma and COPD.

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