We are working on two things that cells do: how they divide and how they 'eat' things from the outside. Dividing and eating are as important for cells as for people! So any problems with these jobs can lead to disease. This is why we are trying to understand these jobs, so that we can think of new ways to treat human diseases.
Steve runs a website called quantixed. On there, we describe the papers that we publish in simple terms that can be understood by non-specialists. For example, see this post. These posts are tagged with outreach. Feel free to take a look.
When a cell divides, each of the two new cells must get one copy of the genome each. The cell makes a machine called the mitotic spindle to share the chromosomes (genome) equally between the two cells. This is a very important task: cells that have too few or too many chromosomes can become cancerous. Our lab is trying to figure out how the mitotic spindle does this so efficiently. There are certain fibres within the spindle that pull chromosomes around the cell to share them out. These fibres are made up of many smaller tubules that are held together by "bridges". We are using powerful microscopes to study these bridges and find out what they are made of.
So far, we have found that some of these bridges are made by at least three different proteins. Two of these proteins are overexpressed in cancer. This means that in patients with these tumours, the cancer cells are making too much of these two proteins. We are figuring out how this might cause the tumour, or how it might make the cancer get worse.
Cells can be thought of as islands – they are closed to the outside world because they have a plasma membrane that doesn't let anything through. However, cells have evolved tiny portals for things to enter in a highly controlled way. These portals are working all the time, but they are shut down when the cell needs to divide. It is important that no mistakes are made at this time. Otherwise the cell could die or it could start to grow in an unusual way leading to disease e.g. cancer. For many years nobody knew how this shutdown worked, but our lab have found out how it happens.
The same portals are used by brain cells for recycling! Nerve cells in the brain talk to each other by releasing small packets of chemicals. Once the chemical has been released, the packet needs to be retrieved so it can be refilled and released again. This is just like recycling of milk bottles. Our lab is trying to understand how cells do the retrieval part of the recycling programme.