Department Overview and Vision

Stained cells
Golgi ribbons and microtubules.

Cells are the fundamental unit of life and understanding cell biology requires knowledge across scales in space and time. The function of individual proteins (at atomic scales) and discrete cellular processes (that occur in seconds), as well as disease mechanisms (at the organismal scale and that are manifested over a lifetime), must be mechanistically understood at the level of the cell. The Department of Cell Biology is ideally positioned to interconnect research across scales of biological complexity and between basic and translational research efforts at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Understanding the complexity of cellular processes and their inter-relationships will require interdisciplinary, collaborative research both within the Department and across campus. Our open-lab space on the North Campus provides an ideal environment to establish the synergistic, interdisciplinary research and training environment necessary to position us for new discoveries and for the integration of existing knowledge at the cellular level. These efforts are supported by core facilities that provide cutting-edge instrumentation and expertise in light and electron microscopy.

The central question in cell biology in this post-genome era is how genotype confers heterogeneous phenotype, both during normal cellular differentiation and adaptation, as well as in pathological states. Addressing this overarching question, as it applies to any number of cellular processes will require:

  • Biochemistry, biophysics, and structural biology to define and probe the molecular machines and organelles that carry out cellular functions.
  • Sophisticated cell and molecular biology techniques and genetic approaches to engineer cells and model organisms so as to develop physiologically or clinically relevant model systems.
  • Integrative electron microscopy to define cellular architecture at high resolution, and live-cell fluorescence microscopy to study dynamic cellular processes.
  • Expertise from disciplines such as physics and chemistry to develop the microscopic methods and probes that push the boundaries of spatial and temporal resolution.
  • Engineers, computer scientists, and mathematicians to develop algorithms to quantify and integrate massive amounts of data obtained by imaging or from global-scale analyses and data-mining, and to generate the predictive mathematical models that guide experimentation in an iterative cycle.

Our faculty members apply their expertise in each of these areas to study cellular processes as diverse as aging, differentiation, apoptosis, stress response, cytoskeletal dynamics and cell mechanics, signaling, pathogenesis, membrane trafficking, and gene regulation.

No single lab or department can master and execute these disciplines, so we are pleased to be part of the intellectually stimulating, interactive, and collaborative research community within the Department and across the UT Southwestern Medical Center campus.