Carnegie Mellon University Biologist Brooke McCartney Receives March of Dimes Award -Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Carnegie Mellon University Biologist Brooke McCartney Receives March of Dimes Award

Research Will Study Cell Activities That Govern Development and Are Linked to Cancer

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University’s Brooke McCartney, an assistant professor of biological sciences, has received the prestigious Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award from the March of Dimes. This award supports young scientists just embarking on their independent research careers, according to the March of Dimes.

McCartney received the $150,000 award in support of her research on understanding signaling molecules used within cells to regulate processes during animal development and to maintain daily cell functions.

“Understanding how these signaling molecules and their associated proteins function inside healthy cells is vital to appreciating how they are affected in diseases that impair development or cause cancer,” said McCartney.

The world inside a cell is a dynamic one. Intricate sets of biochemical events must be carried out perfectly as a cell divides, conducts everyday maintenance and establishes its fate as heart cell, brain cell or liver cell. Certain molecules keep a cell’s activities running smoothly by transmitting signals within one part of the cell to activate other cell components. McCartney is interested in a cascade of signals known as the Wnt/Wingless pathway, which influences many aspects of embryonic development and adult cellular processes. She is focusing her investigations on adenomatous polyposis coli (APC), a colon cancer tumor suppressor protein that regulates the Wnt/Wingless pathway and prevents abnormal cell proliferation. In colon cancer cells, APC doesn’t work correctly, allowing tumors to develop.

McCartney’s goal is to define the mechanisms by which APC proteins function and to understand the mechanisms by which Wnt/Wingless signals are received and interpreted by the cell.

“Work from our lab and others indicates that APC proteins are multifunctional. They also regulate the actin and microtubule cytoskeletons, protein polymers that influence cells’ shape, the movement of molecules within cells, and the ability of cells to move. We are poised to address how this occurs and to determine whether APC’s involvement with the cytoskeleton is mediated by Wnt/Wingless signaling,” McCartney said.

McCartney studies the function of APC in the Wnt/Wingless pathway in the fruit fly,Drosophila melanogaster. Because fruit fly cells and human cells share most fundamental cellular processes, it is an ideal organism to study signaling pathways.

The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. The March of Dimes accomplishes this with its programs of research, community services, education and advocacy.

The Mellon College of Science at Carnegie Mellon maintains innovative research and educational programs in biological sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics and several interdisciplinary areas. For more information, visit

By: Amy Pavlak