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Deborah Goberdhan

Associate Professor of Cell Signalling


Deborah Goberdhan graduated with a degree in Chemistry from St Catherine’s College, Oxford, before starting to study aspects of Developmental Genetics in the US.  While there, she developed a passion for dissecting the complex functions of genes, both in the normal and the diseased state, using the fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model system.  She worked on early patterning events in Bill Gelbart’s lab at Harvard and then on the regulation of neuronal survival in Hermann Steller’s lab at MIT.  During her doctorate, she showed that the fly homologue of the major human tumour suppressor gene, PTEN, acts to block cell growth and antagonise the PI3-Kinase signaling pathway, highlighting the specific role of increased PI3-Kinase signalling in the growth of cancer cells.

Deborah subsequently established an independent research programme with funding from Cancer Research UK.  Her group studies the molecular and cellular processes by which cells control their growth, and how the signalling mechanisms involved go awry in cancer and many other human pathologies.  Much of the research in her group is focused on understanding the impact of local amino acid levels on growth regulatory signalling downstream of PI3-Kinase, which involves the amino acid-sensitive protein complex, mTORC1.  Based on the discovery that members of a class of molecules called the Proton-assisted Amino acid Transporters (PATs) have a unique and potent effect on PI3-Kinase and mTORC1 signalling, her group is now looking at how PATs and other amino acid transporters interplay, as nutrient sensors, to control growth and cell-cell signalling in flies and cancer cells.  This work already suggests that PATs might be particularly attractive targets to treat human diseases involving defective PI3-Kinase and mTORC1 signalling. 

The Goberdhan group has linked this cell-based work to studies of a novel prostate model in flies, which is providing new insights into the regulation and functions of cell-cell signals involving exosomes, a form of intercellular communication, which is not well understood.  Exosomes are secreted nanovesicles that can reprogramme target cells to which they fuse thereby delivering a range of cargo molecules.  Her group’s work indicates that as the cellular microenvironment changes, the types and functions of exosome secreted are altered, and she is investigating the mechanisms involved.


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