Professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry
Drosophila developmental genetics
Our cells contain proteins that regulate how often a cell divides and when to stop dividing. Cell division is highly regulated and if it becomes uncontrolled, cancer can develop. Dr. Verheyen’s research group studies how cells are directed toward a particular fate, becoming a specific type of tissue. As much as Dr. Verheyen is interested in what causes cancer, her foremost concern is understanding the fundamental processes behind it, the mechanisms that drive organ growth and cell proliferation, the process of making more cells. This knowledge will position us to understand how dysfunction of normal processes leads to cancer.
What is the most satisfying part of the work you do?
It’s very satisfying when you discover a new role for a gene that you've been studying, when you discover how that gene works. Progress is incremental, but the small results give information that makes you think about the bigger picture, and how to design another experiment to learn more.
Your group studies the role of Hipk in tumorigenesis, as well as the Wnt signaling pathway – how does research in those two areas pertain to cancer?
When you develop cancer, a mutation has occurred that causes the cell to divide uncontrollably. These same cellular mechanisms function in normal development, but in cancer they are not as tightly controlled.
Dysfunction of the Wnt signaling pathway is associated with cancer. When Wnt signaling is abnormally active it causes colon cancer and other problems. We know that the homeodomain interacting protein kinase (Hipk) helps the Wnt pathway do its job in the cell to promote growth. We speculate that if we could block Hipk in cancer cells, then we could minimize the severity of the cancerous growth.