Brittney-Shea Herbert, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Medical & Molecular Genetics
Graduate Advisor for Medical & Molecular Genetics Program
- B.A. 1993, Biology, The University of Texas at Austin
- Ph.D. 1998, Biological Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin (NASA Graduate Student Research Fellow)
- 1998-2003 Postdoctoral Fellow and Instructor (2002-2003), The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Department of Cell Biology (1999-2003, Susan G. Komen and DOD BCRP Postdoctoral Fellow)
Dr. Herbert's laboratory is interested in understanding the genetic mechanisms of breast cancer, including the mechanisms of how normal cells can immortalize and become tumorigenic. First, we seek to understand the normal growth and replicative aging of human breast epithelial cells and how this can go awry in cancer progression. To address these questions, we are currently using our unique system of normal, immortalized, and tumorigenic mammary epithelial cells from individuals predisposed to cancer with genetic mutations, such as Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (p53+/-) or BRCA1/2, as well as cells from individuals with no history of breast cancer. We aim to develop and test novel therapeutics or preventative strategies for cancer.
A second aim of the laboratory is understanding the role of telomeres and telomerase in aging and cancer. Telomerase, a cellular reverse transcriptase, has been shown to maintain the chromosomal ends (telomeres) which allows for an unlimited cellular lifespan. Immortal cells and over 90% of human cancers contain telomerase activity, while telomerase activity is undetectable in most somatic cells. Induced expression of telomerase results in the immortalization of normal cells and these cells can be expanded and induced to differentiate. Conversely, inhibition of telomerase in cancer cells results in telomere shortening, reduction of cell growth, tumor formation, and metastases in vitro and in vivo. Therefore, telomerase represents not only a tool for regenerative biology, but also a target for cancer therapy. We are currently investigating the role of telomerase in cell growth and the replicative potential in normal and cancerous cells using natural/ synthetic compounds, gene therapy, or oligonucleotides that can regulate telomerase activity.
Dr. Herbert is also a member of the IU Simon Cancer Center, the IU Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine, the Indiana Institute for Personalized Medicine, and an adjunct member of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.