Brittney-Shea Herbert, PhD
Assistant Dean for Physician Scientist Development
Dr. Herbert obtained her B. A. and Ph.D. degrees in Biological Sciences, with a focus on nutrition and cancer, from The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Herbert then performed postdoctoral research on telomeres and telomerase under the tutelage of Drs. Jerry Shay and Woodring Wright at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Department of Cell Biology. Since arriving to IU, Dr. Herbert has focused her independent research on the biology of aging and cancer, including experimental therapeutics research on telomerase inhibitors and natural products. Among Dr. Herbert’s research honors are a NASA Graduate Student Research Fellowship, a Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Postdoctoral Fellowship, a DOD Breast Cancer Research Program Postdoctoral Fellowship, and numerous grants awarded for research in aging and cancer. Dr. Herbert has also been the recipient of the IU Trustees Teaching Award for multiple years.
Titles & Appointments
- Associate Professor of Medical & Molecular Genetics
- Adjunct Associate Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology
The Herbert laboratory is focused on researching the genetic mechanisms of aging and cancer, including the mechanisms of how normal cells can immortalize and become tumorigenic. 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.
Our research also involves the study of the molecular genetics and cell biology of inherited cancer predisposition syndromes. 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.