Organ and System Development
Research into the development of organs and other physiologic systems.
Labs in This Area
Investigating dopamine neurogenesis and subtypes; studying the role of microRNAs in Schwann cell (SC) differentiation.
Topic 1. Mechanisms underlying dopamine neurogenesis
The floor plate, the ventral organizing center in the embryonic neural tube, patterns the neural tube by secreting the potent morphogen Shh. Using genetic fate mapping, we have recently shown that the midbrain floor plate, unlike the hindbrain and spinal cord floor plate, is neurogenic and is the source of midbrain dopamine neurons (Joksimovic, et al, 2009 Nature Neuroscience, Joksimovic et al. 2009 PNAS). We are interested in understanding pathways that are involved in floor plate neurogenesis and production of dopamine neurons. We have shown that Wnt signaling is critical for the establishment of the dopamine progenitor pool and that miRNAs may modulate the dosage and timing of the Wnt pathway (Anderegg et al, PloS Genetics 2013).
Topic 2. Deconstructing Dopaminergic Diversity
The neurotransmitter dopamine, produced mainly by midbrain dopaminergic neurons, influences a spectrum of behaviors including motor, learning, reward, motivation and cognition. In accordance with its diverse functions, dopaminergic dysfunction is implicated in a range of disorders affecting millions of people, including Parkinson’s disease (PD), schizophrenia, addiction and depression. How a small group of neurons underpins a gamut of key behaviors and diseases remains enigmatic. We postulated that there must exist several molecularly distinct dopaminergic neuron populations that, in part, can account for the plethora of dopaminergic functions and disorders. We are currently working to test this hypothesis and define dopamine neuron subtypes.
Topic 3. MicroRNAs in Schwann cell (SC) differentiation
MicroRNAs, by modulating gene expression, have been implicated as regulators of various cellular and physiological processes including differentiation, proliferation and cancer. We have studied the role of microRNAs in Schwann cell (SC) differentiation by conditional removal of the microRNA processing enzyme, Dicer1 (Yun et al, 2010, J Neurosci) . We reveal that mice lacking Dicer1 in SC (Dicer1 cKO) display a severe neurological phenotype resembling congenital hypomyelination. SC lacking Dicer1 are stalled in differentiation at the promyelinating state and fail to myelinate axons. We are beginning to determine the molecular basis of this phenotype. Understanding this will be important not only for congenital hypomyelination, but also for peripheral nerve regeneration and SC cancers.
For more information, please see Dr. Awatramani's faculty profile.
View Dr. Awatramani's complete list of publications in PubMed.
Rajeshwar Awatramani, PhD at 312-503-0690
The Crispino laboratory studies the mechanisms of normal and malignant blood cell growth.
Research in the Crispino laboratory is focused on investigating the regulatory mechanisms governing normal and malignant blood cell development, with an emphasis on understanding the growth of erythroid cells (red blood cells) and megakaryocytes (platelet-producing cells). Major areas of focus include: 1) Understanding the link between Down syndrome and leukemia. We are investigating how mutations in GATA1, a key transcription factor that regulates megakaryocyte growth contribute to leukemia. We are also studying the mechanisms by which trisomy 21 promotes the development of leukemia with a long-term goal of unraveling the mystery of why children with DS are predisposed to leukemia. Our current efforts are focused on characterizing the contributions of two chromosome 21 genes: DYRK1A, a kinase and ERG, a transcription factor. 2) Development of novel therapeutics for human megakaryocytic malignancies. In collaboration with the Broad Institute, we identified several small molecules that induce proliferation arrest, polyploidization and maturation of malignant megakaryocytes. By a three-pronged target identification approach, we discovered that a key target of these small molecules is Aurora A Kinase. We are currently investigating the utility of AURKA inhibitors as potential new, targeted therapies for acute megakaryocytic leukemia. In addition, we have completed extensive pre-clinical studies to support the testing of AURKA inhibitors in a related blood disease named primary myelofibrosis, a subtype of the MPNs. 3) Investigating the mechanisms of red blood cell development. We are currently studying two aspects of red blood cell development. First, based on our previous discovery that the coalescence of cytoplasmic vesicles is required for enucleation of erythroblasts, we are probing the requirements for specific motor proteins in enucleation and identifying small molecules that enhance enucleation in culture. This research will aid in the development of new strategies to generate red blood cells for transfusion in vitro from stem cells. Second, in line with our expertise and significant interest in GATA1 biology, we are studying the effects of GATA1 mutations on erythropoiesis. We are using state of the art approaches to identify essential, direct GATA1 target genes whose expression depends on the presence of the full-length wild-type protein. This research is relevant to rare red blood cell disorders such as Diamond Blackfan Anemia. Overall, the lab seeks to make seminal basic science discoveries while simultaneously translating these discoveries in ways that will benefit patients with hematologic malignancies.
View lab publications via PubMed.
For more information, visit the faculty profile page of John Crispino, PhD.
Contact Dr. Crispino at 312-503-1504 or the Crispino Lab at 312-503-1433.
Gina Kirsammer, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Paul Lee, MD, PhD
Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellow
Monika Stankiewicz, PhD
Praveen Suraneni, PhD
Benjamin Thompson, MD/PhD
Qiang (Jeremy) Wen, MD/PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Qiong Yang, MD/PhD
Mammalian ovarian and gamete biology and reproductive aging
Aging is associated with cellular and tissue deterioration and is a prime risk factor for chronic
diseases and declining health. The female reproductive system is the first to age in humans, with
a decline in egg quantity and quality beginning at ~35 years of age and menopause ensuing at
~50 years of age. Female reproductive aging has significant health consequences as it results in
endocrine function loss and is a leading cause of infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects.
Although aging hallmarks and mechanisms have been enumerated across multiple organ
systems and species, they have not been investigated in the context of mammalian reproductive
My research program integrates and builds upon my 18-year history in the field of reproductive
science and medicine to investigate the overarching hypothesis that deterioration of oocyte-intrinsic
cellular pathways together with alterations in the ovarian environment underlie the age-associated
decline in female gamete quantity and quality. Our work is at the interface of
reproductive aging and systemic aging; physiologic and iatrogenic reproductive aging; gamete,
follicle, and ovarian biology; and reproductive science and medicine. Our comprehensive insights
will help us design targeted interventions to potentially slow or counteract reproductive aging,
laying the foundation to simultaneously improve women’s fertile-span and health-span across
generations. In addition, reproductive aging mechanisms may inform those that precipitate
general aging, which occur up to decades later in life. Moreover, the mechanisms involved in
reproductive aging that we are investigating - aneuploidy, protein metabolism dysregulation,
and fibrosis and inflammation – are also central to other conditions such as cancer
pathogenesis. Thus, our research has broad impact and collaborative opportunities across
disciplines, which already include biochemistry, biophysics, toxicology and pharmacology, and
reproductive endocrinology and infertility.
Ultimately our work in reproductive aging will have direct impacts on public health in two ways.
First, reproductive aging affects all women, and menopause and premature aging of the ovary
accelerates aging in general. Such health consequences occur because ovarian hormones such
as estrogen, for example, are critical for cardiovascular, bone, immune, and cognitive functions.
Second, reproductive aging is associated with age-associated infertility, which has significant
societal, clinical, and health ramifications as more women globally are delaying childbearing.
For lab information and more, see Dr. Duncan's faculty profile.
Visit the Duncan Lab website
See Dr. Duncan's publications on PubMed.
Email Dr. Duncan
Development, function, dysfunction and degeneration of sensory receptor cells and neurons
We investigate sensory organs and particularly the uniquely specialized cells that detect external signals (the sensory receptor cells) and communicate this information to the brain (the primary sensory neurons). Our approach is to identify and characterize novel genes involved in the formation (during development or regeneration), function (as sensory transducers), dysfunction and death (causing diseases like deafness or neuropathic pain) of these cells. The genes we have studied so far encode ion channels (of the Deg/ENaC and TRP families) and transcriptional regulators (zinc-finger proteins; these studied in collaboration with Anne Duggan). We are interested in all forms of sensation but, as of now, have primarily explored the somatic (touch and pain), auditory and nasal sensory organs.
Sensory Neuron Development: We found Insm1, a zinc-finger gene regulator that determines the number of olfactory receptor neurons. Insm1 is expressed in the olfactory epithelium, as it is everywhere else in the developing nervous system, in late (but not early) progenitors and nascent (but not mature) neurons. It functions by promoting the transition of neuroepithelial progenitors from apical, proliferative and uncommitted (i.e., neural stem cells) to basal, terminally dividing and neuron-producing (Duggan et al., 2008; Rosenbaum, Duggan & García-Añoveros 2011). We are currently determining the role of Insm1 in other sensory organs, as well as elucidating the role of other novel neurodevelopmental genes.
Sensory Transduction: We pioneered a molecular model of how certain neurons can detect touch using DEG/ENaC channels and structural components of the extracellular matrix and the cytoskeleton (García-Añoveros et al., 1995; 1996), characterized a major pain transduction channel (TRPA1; Nagata et al., 2005), and continue searching for sensory transducers, particularly ion channels.
Sensory Neuron Degeneration: We found a form of cell death caused by mutations on ion channels that leave them open, generating lethal currents (García-Añoveros et al., 1998). In this way, we found how dominant mutations in the Mcoln3 (Trpml3) gene cause loss of mechanosensory cells of the inner ear and deafness (Nagata et al., 2008; Castiglioni et al., 2011). We continue exploring he role of TRPML3 and other ion channel in inner ear function and disease.
See Dr. García-Añoveros' publications on PubMed.
Research Assistant Professor
Lab Phone: 312-503-4246
Office Phone: 312-503-4245
Identifying and investigating novel molecular bases of cellular recognition that govern neuronal circuit assembly during human development and disease.
Developing neurons integrate into functional circuits through a series of cell recognition events, which include neuronal sorting, axon and dendrite patterning, synaptic selection, among others. Our research focuses on cell-surface recognition molecules that mediate interactions between neurons to discriminate and select appropriate targets in the developing brain. Additionally, we seek to uncover novel mechanisms of neural recognition that lead to brain connectivity defects in humans. To explore the broader roles for cell recognition molecules and their pivotal function in neural circuit development, our lab takes advantage of a battery of modern laboratory techniques. These approaches include animal and stem cell disease modeling, as well as next-generation sequencing and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. Identifying fundamental principles of cellular recognition in wiring circuits contributes to our understanding of neurological disorders and how neuronal dysfunction arises from aberrations during development of the human brain.
See Dr. Guemez-Gamboa's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Guemez-Gamboa at 312-503-0752.
Role of MDia1 in the pathogenesis of del(5q) myelodysplastic syndromes
Our lab is interested in how cytoskeletal signaling, motor proteins and adhesion systems are integrated with chemical signaling pathways to regulate cell behavior and tissue differentiation and disease. The Ji lab studies small G proteins and downstream actin regulatory effectors that participate in enucleation during red cell development.
At the level of the nucleus, the Ji laboratory studies genes involved in erythroid lineage commitment, chromatin condensation and enucleation towards understanding how congenital red cell disorders and leukemia develop.
For more information, visit the faculty profile of Peng Ji, MD, PhD.
See Dr. Ji's publications in PubMed.
T helper cell differentiation and trafficking.
For lab information and more, see Dr. Kansas's faculty profile.
See Dr. Kansas's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Kansas at 312-908-3237 or the lab at 312-908-3752.
The Kume Lab’s research interests focus on cardiovascular development, cardiovascular stem/progenitor cells and angiogenesis.
Cardiovascular development is at the center of all the work that goes on in the Kume lab. The cardiovascular system is the first functional unit to form during embryonic development and is essential for the growth and nurturing of other developing organs. Failure to form the cardiovascular system often leads to embryonic lethality and inherited disorders of the cardiovascular system are quite common in humans. The causes and underlying developmental mechanisms of these disorders, however, are poorly understood. A particular emphasis in our laboratory has recently been the study of cardiovascular signaling pathways and transcriptional regulation in physiological and pathological settings using mice as animal models, as well as embryonic stem (ES) cells as an in vitro differentiation system. The ultimate goal of our research is to provide new insights into the mechanisms that lead to the development of therapeutic strategies designed to treat clinically relevant conditions of pathological neovascularization.
View Dr. Kume's publications on PubMed.
For more information, visit the faculty profile for Tsutomu Kume, PhD.
Contact Dr. Kume at 312-503-0623 or the Kume Lab at 312-503-3008.
Pediatric Fertility & Hormone Preservation & Restoration
Our research addresses fundamental regenerative medicine questions through the lens of reproductive biology. The main objective of our lab is to develop a patient-specific ovarian follicle niche that will support systemic endocrine function and fertility in women and girls who were sterilized by cancer treatments, have disorders of sex development or were exposed to other factors that could result in premature ovarian failure or sex hormone insufficiency. This research is a part of the Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital Fertility and Hormone Preservation and Restoration Program that bridges basic science, translational research and clinical practice.
See Dr. Laronda's publications in PubMed.
Regulation of Motor Neuron and Dopaminergic Neuron Function in Development and Disease
Postdoctoral fellow jobs and graduate student rotation projects are available.
Research DescriptionSpinal Motor Neurons and Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)
SMA is characterized by the selective degeneration of spinal motor neurons. As the leading genetic cause of infant mortality, SMA affects one in every eight thousand live births. Our group is interested in studying mechanism regulating motor neuron development and function, as well as why motor neurons specifically degenerate in SMA. To address these questions, we use a combination of genetic, biochemical and cell biological approaches and utilize genetically modified mice, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells reprogrammed from fibroblasts and zebrafish as model systems. We focus on the regulation of mitochondrial functions in SMA pathogenesis. Based on our findings, we hope to develop new therapeutic strategies for treating SMA.
Dopaminergic Neurons and Parkinson's Disease
Dopaminergic neurons located in the ventral midbrain control movement, emotional behavior and reward mechanisms. Dysfunction of these neurons is implicated in Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction, depression and schizophrenia. Our group is interested in the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms regulating dopaminergic neuron functions in disease and aging conditions. We are particularly interested in how aging and mitochondrial oxidative stress contribute to dopaminergic neuron degeneration in Parkinson's disease through transcriptional and epigenetic regulations. We use mouse models, cultured neurons and iPS cells for these studies.
View Dr. Ma's publications at PubMed
Nimrod Miller, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow
Han Shi, Graduate Student
Brittany Edens, Graduate Student
Kevin Park, Graduate Student
Monica Yang, Undergraduate Student
Aaron Zelikovich, Undergraduate Student
Our goal is to understand the integration of signaling and cytoskeletal dynamics on diverse developmental processes including centriole amplification, cell migration and cell polarity.
Centrioles are microtubule based structures with nine fold symmetry that are involved in both centrosome organization and aster formation during cell division. During the normal cell cycle centrioles duplicate once, generating a mother/daughter pair and in most post-mitotic vertebrate cells the mother centriole then goes on to form the basal body of a sensory cilium. Abnormalities in the duplication of centrioles (and centrosomes) are prevalent in many cancers suggesting a link between centriole duplication and cancer progression. We study what factors limit centriole duplication from a novel direction with the use of Xenopus motile ciliated cells. Ciliated cells are unique among vertebrate cells in that they generate hundreds of centrioles (basal bodies) therefore providing a great system for studying the regulation of centriole duplication. Understanding how nature has overcome the typically tight regulation of centriole duplication will lend insight into the molecular mechanisms of cancer progression.
Tissue development and homeostasis requires dramatic remodeling as new cells migrate into an epithelium. How migrating cells breakdown junctional barriers during development or during diseases processes such as metastasis is poorly understood at the molecular level. During the early development of Xenopus embryos, distinct cell types join the outer epithelium in a process called radial intercalation. We are interested in the molecular mechanisms that regulate both the migration of these cells as well as the tissue remodeling that occurs to accommodate them.
The ability of ciliated epithelia to generate directed fluid flow is an important aspect of diverse developmental and physiological processes including proper respiratory function. To achieve directed flow, ciliated cells must generate 100-200 cilia that are polarized along a common axis both within and between cells. My lab is currently working towards understanding the molecular mechanisms for how cell polarity is coordinated as well as how individual cilia interpret the cells polarity. We have determined that ciliated cells receive polarity cues via the non-canonical Wnt/Planar Cell Polarity (PCP) pathway, but the details of this are still poorly understood. Additionally, the PCP pathway is known to influence a cells cytoskeleton dynamics and a main goal is to understand how this influences the ability of individual cilia to coordinate their polarity.
See Dr. Mitchell's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Mitchell at 312-503-9251.
Exploring how each specific cell type and organ acquires all its specific and unique morphological and functional characteristics during embryogenesis
The Oliver Lab focuses on understanding how each specific cell type and organ acquires all its specific and unique morphological and functional characteristics during embryogenesis. Alterations in the cellular and molecular mechanisms controlling organ formation can result in major defects and pathological alterations. Our rationale is that a better knowledge of the basic processes controlling normal organogenesis will facilitate our understanding of disease. Our goal is to dissect the specific stepwise molecular processes that make each organ unique and perfect. Our major research interests are the forebrain, visual system and the lymphatic vasculature and to address those questions we use a combination of animal models and 3D organ culture systems, stem cells and iPS cells.
Related to the lymphatic vasculature, our lab identified years ago the first specific marker for lymphatic endothelial cells and generated the first mouse model devoid of lymphatics. We have characterized many of the critical steps leading to the formation of the lymphatic vasculature. We have also reported that a defective lymphatic vasculature can cause obesity in mice and we are currently trying to determine whether this is also valid in humans.
In case of the central nervous system, our focus is to characterize how complex structures such as the forebrain and eye are formed. For that we have started to apply 3D organ culture systems derived from stem cell and iPS that allow us to grow eyes in a petri dish. Using this approach we expect to dissect the genes and mechanisms controlling these developmental processes.
View Dr. Oliver's publications at PubMed
Oxygen sensing in embryonic development, tissue responses to hypoxia and tumor angiogenesis.
Our lab is interested in the molecular mechanisms of oxygen sensing and the importance of this process for embryonic development, tissue responses to hypoxia and tumor angiogenesis. We are testing the hypothesis that the mitochondria play a central role in detecting cellular oxygenation and signal the onset of hypoxia by releasing reactive oxygen species (ROS). These signals trigger downstream signal transduction pathways responsible for the transcriptional and post-translational responses of the cell. Transcriptional activation of genes by Hypoxia-Inducible Factor-1 confers protection against more severe hypoxia by augmenting the expression of glycolytic enzymes, membrane glucose transporters and other genes that tend to augment tissue oxygen supply by increasing the release of vascular growth factors such as VEGF, erythropoietin and vasoactive molecules that augment local blood flow. Current experiments are aimed at improving our understanding of how oxygen interacts with the mitochondrial electron transport chain to amplify ROS production and clarifying the targets that they act on to stabilize HIF and activate transcription.
In specific tissues, oxygen sensing is essential for normal function, but it can also contribute to disease pathogenesis. For example, during mammalian development, the lung tissue is hypoxic and blood flow is restricted in the pulmonary circulation in order to prevent escape of oxygen from the pulmonary capillaries to amniotic fluid. At birth, inflation of the lung with air causes an increase in lung oxygen levels, which triggers relaxation of pulmonary arteries. In Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn, failure of the pulmonary circulation to dilate results in elevated pulmonary arterial pressures and significant lung gas exchange dysfunction. We are testing the hypothesis that pulmonary vascular cells sense O2 at the mitochondria and that ROS released from those organelles trigger an increase in cytosolic calcium, which causes smooth muscle cell contraction. In adult patients with hypoxic lung disease, similar activation of hypoxic vasoconstriction can lead to chronic pulmonary hypertension, which can progress to right heart failure. A fuller understanding of the mechanisms of oxygen sensing in health and disease may lead to insights into therapeutic inhibition of this response in disease states.
In solid tumors, consumption of oxygen by highly metabolic tumor cells leads to hypoxia and threatens glucose supplies. Hypoxic tumor cells retain their oxygen sensing capacity and turn on expression of HIF-dependent genes, leading to tumor angiogenesis and increased blood supply, which permits further growth. We are currently exploring the hypothesis that the mitochondrial oxygen sensor is required for this response using pursuing genetic models. A better understanding of how tumor cells detect hypoxia could lead to the discovery of therapeutic approaches that would prevent detection of hypoxia and thereby prevent tumor progression.
For more information visit Dr. Schumacker's faculty profile page
View Dr. Schumacker's publications at PubMed
Development and regenerative repair of vertebrate limbs and hearts
The development of organs during embryogenesis and their repair during adulthood are biological problems of very practical importance for regenerative medicine.
Using both newt and zebrafish model organisms that naturally rebuild lost structures as adults, we identified evolutionarily conserved gene activities indicative of a molecular signature of regeneration. Particularly, we found the dynamic remodeling of the extracellular matrix (ECM) to be key in instructing cell behaviors that are critical for initiating and maintaining regenerative processes. These findings point to new opportunities for the enhancement of regenerative wound healing in mammals through the manipulation of the local extracellular environment.
As a new research direction, we are studying an unexpected hyperactive blood clotting phenotype in mice deficient for the actin-associated protein Pdlim7. The Pdlim7 knockout mouse provides strong translational opportunities as a novel model to better understand the causes and possible treatments of hypercoagulopathies.
For more information visit the faculty profile of Hans-Georg Simon, PhD.
View all publications on PubMed
Phone Dr. Simon at 773-755-6391 or the Simon Lab at 773-755-6372.
The Sosa-Pineda lab studies studies the regulation of acinar cell development and plasticity in the pancreas, hepatic cell fate, and liver zonation. We also investigate mechanisms that promote pancreas metastasis.
Using genetically modified mouse models and cutting-edge technologies, we investigate how the complex architecture of the mammalian pancreas and liver is established during development. We also investigate how acute or chronic injury affect liver zonation and exocrine pancreas homeostasis, and the role of chromosomal instability in pancreatic tumor formation and metastasis.
View Dr. Sosa-Pineda's publications at PubMed
Morphogenetic processes in vertebrate embryo
Animal development requires proper specification of different cell types and, at the same time, their organization in to multicellular arrangements such as tissues and organs. My laboratory investigates the mechanisms that control morphogenetic processes in vertebrate embryo. We are studying these processes in the zebrafish (Danio rerio) using a combination of genetic analysis with embryological and molecular methods. The transparency of zebrafish embryos together with the generation of fluorescent transgenic animals allows us to use high-resolution confocal microscopy for in vivo analysis of cell behaviors. Moreover, similarities in developmental programs among all vertebrates make zebrafish an excellent model for investigating human diseases and development.
We are focusing current efforts on the mechanisms that shape the zebrafish head skeleton. We are particularly interested in the role of non-canonical Wnt signaling in cartilage morphogenesis. Mutants with altered non-canonical Wnt signaling pathways exhibit similar cell behavior defects during gastrulation and cartilage morphogenesis. This observation led to the hypothesis that non-canonical Wnt signaling controls cartilage element morphology by modification of chondrocyte behavior. My work on the characterization of the zebrafish knypek gene has revealed a new role for glypicans (heparan sulfate proteoglycan) in controlling morphogenetic movements during gastrulation by promoting non-canonical Wnt11 signaling. We are investigating the function of non-canonical Wnts and their potential co-receptors, glypicans, in chondrocyte differentiation and polarization. Because the initial steps in craniofacial development are similar in all vertebrates, these studies will help understand genetic basis for relatively frequent congenital anomalies causing abnormal development of the hard and soft tissue of the head and neck.
We are also interested in the developmental roles of other glypicans, as these extracellular proteins can play an essential role by interaction with growth factors, chemokines, extracellular matrix proteins, enzymes and enzyme inhibitors. Glypicans can be involved in regulation of ligand-receptor interactions and control of ligand distribution, both within a tissue and on the cell surface. For example, the clinical features of Simpson-Golabi-Behmel overgrowth syndrome, caused by mutation in the gene encoding Glypican 3, suggest that this protein is involved in regulation of cell survival and/or proliferation. One goal of my laboratory is to identify zebrafish glypicans and characterize developmental processes that they are regulating.
For more information view Dr. Topczewski's faculty profile page
View Dr. Topczewski's publications at PubMed
Understand the development of the ovarian follicle, identify markers and determinants of egg quality and discover how this basic biology can be applied to patients.
Welcome to the Woodruff Lab, a team of research faculty, post-doctoral professionals, graduate students and lab technicians devoted to the study of ovarian health and development. We are working in three main areas. The first is ovarian follicle development, the study of the formation and maturation of the ovarian follicle, which is the basic functional unit of the ovary. The follicle includes somatic cells (which make hormones like estrogen and inhibin) and the oocyte (or egg). We are attempting to isolate the factors that regulate follicle and oocyte maturation and to understand the mechanisms of follicle and oocyte survival and death. The second focus of the Woodruff Lab is to develop in vitro follicle culture systems that can mimic the normal in vivo patterns of follicle development. The end goal of this research is to allow us to successfully remove healthy ovarian tissue from a cancer patient, safely store it until the patient has completed their treatment and then either harvest follicles from the tissue in an effort to grow them or surgically transplant the tissue to restore natural ovulation. Our third area of study is on the endocrine hormones inhibin and activin, which govern the reproductive cycle. Work on these hormones is essential to an understanding of healthy reproductive cyclicity and on the treatment of infertility.
View publications on PubMed.
Contact the Woodruff Lab via email.
Research Assistant Professor:
Molecular Mechanisms of Tumorigenesis and Cancer Metastasis
The Zhang laboratory is focused on two research directions: 1) determining role of tumor suppressors in development and cancer progression and 2) identifying immune components that control breast cancer metastasis.
The main focus of my research program is to study the roles of tumor suppressors in normal development and in breast and prostate cancer progression, focusing on maspin and an Ets transcription factor PDEF. Maspin is a unique member of the SERPIN family that plays roles in normal tissue development, tumor metastasis and angiogenesis. Genetic studies by my laboratory using maspin transgenic and knockout mice demonstrated an important role of maspin in normal mammary, prostate and embryonic development. Recently, we have identified several new properties of maspin. As a protein that is present on cell surface, maspin controls cell-ECM adhesion. This function is responsible for maspin-mediated suppression of tumor cell motility and invasion. We have also discovered that maspin is involved in the induction of tumor cell apoptosis through a mitochondrial death pathway. The long-term goals of these projects are to elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which maspin and PDEF control tumor metastasis and to identify their physiological functions in development. These analyses are not only important for basic biology and but also may lead to a therapy for cancer and other developmental diseases.
Another focus of research in Zhang lab is to identify immune components that control breast cancer metastasis. Chronic inflammation not only increases neoplastic transformation but also drives the inhibition of the immune response in a protective negative-feedback mechanism. Suppressive immune cells are recruited to the sites of inflammation and function to inhibit both innate and adaptive immune responses, enabling tumor tolerance and unmitigated tumor progression. To study the interplay between tumor and immune cells, the Zhang lab has developed a unique animal model of breast cancer that reproduces different stages of breast cancer bone metastasis. Molecules that control tumor-immune cell interaction and immunosuppression have been identified. We are currently studying roles of these genes in tumor-driven evolution that control chronic inflammation and immunosuppression. We hypothesize that these key pro-inflammatory genes are upregulated during cancer progression, which function synergistically to recruit and activate suppressive MDSCs, TAMs and Tregs, inducing chronic inflammation and an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment conducive to metastatic progression.
For more information visit Ming Zhang's faculty profile.
View publications by Ming Zhang in PubMed