Faculty and Research Interests

Michael Buszczak, Ph.D.

We seek to understand the mechanisms that regulate the balance between stem cell self-renewal and differentiation. We use the germline stem cells of the Drosophila ovary as a model to study stem cell biology because we can identify and genetically manipulate individual cells within their native environment. The molecules we work on tend to fall into two broad categories: Those that regulate chromatin organization and those that modulate mRNA translation. Lab website

Thomas Carroll, Ph.D.

Despite advances in our understanding of the ultrastructure of eukaryotic cells, the question of how these cells interact to form the tissues of our bodies is still poorly understood. Once formed, we know even less about how these tissues are maintained. My lab is interested in how groups of cells organize themselves into properly sized, polarized tubules and then how these structures are maintained throughout the life of the organism. This is particularly significant as defects in tubule size and maintenance play causal roles in several human diseases including cystic kidney diseases and cancers. Lab website

Elizabeth Chen, Ph.D.

Our lab is interested in discovering mechanisms underlying cell-cell fusion, a fascinating process essential for the conception, development, regeneration, and physiology of multicellular organisms. We use genetic, cell biological, biochemical, and biophysical tools to study this process in organisms ranging from insects to mammals. We have to date elucidated the function of the actin cytoskeleton in cell-cell fusion by uncovering an asymmetric fusogenic synapse where mechanical forces are generated to promote cell membrane fusion. Our current effort aims to understand the roles of transmembrane proteins and lipids at the fusogenic synapse. Insights from these studies would provide basis for optimizing therapeutic approaches for tissue degenerative diseases. Lab website

Zhijian “James” Chen, Ph.D.

We are taking biochemical and genetic approaches to dissect two signaling pathways: ubiquitin-mediated activation of protein kinases and antiviral innate immunity. We have uncovered a novel function of ubiquitin in activating protein kinases in the nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) signaling cascade through a proteasome-independent mechanism. Our current effort is focused on elucidating the biochemical mechanism underlying the regulatory function of ubiquitin. In viral signaling, we are particularly interested in dissecting the signaling pathway by which a host cell mounts an immune response to RNA virus infection. Lab website

Ondine Cleaver, Ph.D.

During early development, the embryo acquires its shape and complexity of tissues via the coordination of fundamental cellular processes, such as cell signaling, cell migration, cell adhesion and cell differentiation. During this amazing process, a multitude of different signals must be exchanged between cells at precise times and locations, often in a step-wise manner. We are interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie organogenesis in the embryo. Understanding these principles will help us to identify and characterize molecular lesions that underlie human birth defects and disease. Lab website

Peter Douglas, Ph.D.

Our laboratory is interested in understanding how tissues such as the nervous system respond to traumatic injury. Using high-throughput screening in the nematode C. elegans in combination with murine models, we seek to uncover the short and long-term regenerative capacity for stress response and protein homeostasis pathways in brain injury. Lab website

Jenna Jewell, Ph.D.

The Jewell Lab has a general interest in the regulation of mammalian cell growth and metabolism. Our research is particularly focused on the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), a highly conserved protein kinase that is implicated in many human diseases. Pharmacological inhibition of mTOR has proven efficacious in several clinical trials and several compounds have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat late-stage renal and breast cancers. mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) senses multiple stimuli, including growth factors, stress, energy status, and amino acids. Although amino acids are key environmental stimuli, exactly how cells sense them and how they activate mTORC1 is not fully understood. To this end, our lab is interested in elucidating the molecular mechanisms by which mTORC1 senses amino acids to control cellular processes such as growth, autophagy, and metabolism. Lab website

Jin Jiang, Ph.D.

We study genetic pathways and cell signaling mechanisms that regulate embryonic development, adult tissue homeostasis and regeneration. We are particularly interested in studying Hedgehog signaling mechanism in pattern formation, Hippo signaling in organ size control and tumorigenesis, and BMP signaling in stem cell self-renewal and regeneration. Lab website

Steven Kliewer, Ph.D.

Dr. Kliewer runs a joint laboratory with Dr. David Mangelsdorf. Their research focuses on the roles of nuclear receptors and endocrine FGFs in regulating diverse aspects of physiology and pathophysiology, including metabolism and related diseases. Among their ongoing projects, they are studying how FGF19 and FGF21 regulate bile acid and energy homeostasis, respectively, and how the dafachronic acid receptor, DAF-12, regulates the infectious lifecycle of parasitic nematodes. Lab website

Joshua Mendell, M.D., Ph.D.

Our laboratory is interested in mechanisms of post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression and how these pathways influence normal physiology and disease. In particular, we have focused on the regulation and functions of noncoding RNAs with an emphasis on microRNAs (miRNAs). miRNAs are an abundant and diverse family of  ~20- to 23-nucleotide RNAs that recognize sites of complementarity in target mRNAs, resulting in decay and reduced translation of target transcripts. miRNAs provide important functions in development and physiology and their aberrant activity is associated with several diseases including cancer. Our work on the miRNA pathway focuses mainly on three broad questions: What functions do miRNAs perform in normal physiologic states? How does aberrant miRNA activity contribute to diseases such as cancer? How is miRNA abundance regulated in normal physiology and disease? Lab website

Ping Mu, Ph.D.

We seek to understand the mechanisms of antiandrogen resistance in prostate cancer, to identify novel biomarkers, and to develop therapeutic approaches to prevent or overcome resistance. Lab website

Kathryn O’Donnell, Ph.D.

The O’Donnell laboratory is focused on understanding the mechanisms that contribute to tumor initiation, progression, and metastasis. We have identified novel genes that promote liver cancer, leukemia, and non-small cell lung cancer. Currently, we are investigating the regulation and function of cell surface receptors in lung cancer using molecular and biochemical studies, and animal models. These studies may provide new therapeutic approaches to target cancer cells. Lab website

Eric Olson, Ph.D.

Our lab studies muscle cells as a model for understanding how embryonic cells adopt specific fates and how programs of cell differentiation and morphogenesis are controlled during development. There are three major muscle cell types: cardiac, skeletal and smooth, which express distinct sets of genes controlled by different combinations of transcription factors and extracellular signals. We have focused on discovering novel transcription factors that control development of these muscle cell types and remodeling in response to cardiovascular and neuromuscular diseases.

The processes involved in muscle development are evolutionarily ancient and conserved across diverse organisms. This conservation has enabled us to take a cross-species approach to dissect this problem by identifying myogenic regulatory genes in the fruit fly or in vertebrate embryos and to use these genes to perform gain and loss-of-function experiments in vivo and in vitro. Most recently, we have explored the roles of microRNAs in the control of muscle development and disease. Our longterm goal is to delineate the complete genetic pathways for the formation and function of each muscle cell type and to use this information to devise pharmacologic and genetic therapies for inherited and acquired muscle diseases in humans. Lab website

Kim Orth, Ph.D.

My lab is interested in elucidating the activity of virulence factors (also called effectors) from pathogenic bacteria so that we can gain novel molecular insight into eukaryotic signaling systems. We study T3SS systems and bacterial effectors to understand how signaling systems in the eukaryotic host can be manipulated by bacterial pathogens. These studies provide novel insight into the molecular workings of eukaryotic signal transduction. Lab website

Lu Sun, Ph.D.

In vertebrates (including human beings), nearly half of the brain cells are non-neuronal cells. Most of them are so-called “glial cells”, which are critical for normal nervous system function. There are three major glial cell types: astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and microglia. How glial cells develop and how they communicate with neurons and other cell types remain mysterious. Our lab is dedicated to addressing the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying neuron-glia interactions in health and disease. In particular, we have focused on the oligodendrocytes, the sole myelin-producing cells in the central nervous system, and have recently identified a novel pathway that controls the location and timing of myelination. Our long-term goal aims to elucidate fundamental principles that govern neuron-glia communications. This will help us better characterize many neurological disorders that are greatly contributed by glial dysfunction, including white matter injury, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, and Alzheimer’s disease. Lab website

Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D.

Our lab studies the phosphorylation of extracellular proteins by a novel family of “secreted kinases.” This kinase family is so different from canonical kinases that it was not included as a branch on the human kinome tree. The lab uses biochemical and genetic approaches to identify the substrates for these kinases. Current work focuses on one member of this family, Fam20C, which we identified as the bona fide “Golgi casein kinase”, an enzyme that escaped identification for many years. Fam20C phosphorylates hundreds of secreted proteins and appears to generate the majority of the extracellular phosphoproteome. Fam20C substrates are involved in a broad spectrum of physiological processes, including lipid metabolism, wound healing, cell migration, biomineralization and inflammation. Understanding the functional implications of these phosphorylation events and how these modifications impact human biology are major objectives of the laboratory. Lab website

Jun Wu, Ph.D.

The Wu lab uses interspecies chimeras – entities made up of cells from two different organisms – to study fundamental biology: conserved and divergent developmental programs, determination of body and organ size, species barriers, and cancer resistance. We also work to develop new applications for regenerative medicine. Lab Website

Chun-Li Zhang, Ph.D.

Molecular and cellular biology of postnatal neural stem cells, with a focus on their specification and maintenance. Regeneration of the central nervous system through reprogramming endogenous cells. Molecular signaling in brain tumors. Lab website