N.C. A&T Professor Awarded $1.4M Grant to Research Cell Communication


EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Feb. 20, 2019) – A North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University professor received $1.4 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences to investigate the biochemical mechanisms that facilitate communication within and between cells in the human body.

a and t associate professor Robert Newman

Robert Newman, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Biology, is researching cellular signaling pathways, or simply put, how cells know what to do and when to do it. Newman’s research, which is focused on phosphorylation-dependent signaling pathways mediated by protein kinases and phosphatases, holds possibilities for improved treatments for diseases ranging from cancer to diabetes to heart disease.

A typical cellular signaling pathway is composed of an array of signaling molecules — including small molecule second messengers and various types of signaling enzymes, such as protein kinases and small G-proteins — acting in a coordinated fashion to process information about the cellular environment. However, these signaling pathways do not operate in isolation. In fact, hundreds of intersecting signaling pathways are operating simultaneously to process information about both the cell’s external environment and its internal state. Moreover, the same signaling molecules are often involved in multiple cellular signaling pathways. For instance, a given signaling enzyme, such as one of the 518 protein kinases encoded in the human genome, might play a role in regulating diverse cellular processes, such as cell proliferation and programmed cell death.

A major question in the signaling field is how cells are able to selectively activate one signaling pathway while not activating another, even though key signaling molecules are shared between the two pathways. Newman’s group is exploring the hypothesis that, by modulating the substrate selectivity of protein kinases, the cell is able to control which arm of a branched pathway is activated in response to a given signal.

Newman’s research, which will identify points of signal integration between redox- and phosphorylation-dependent cellular signaling pathways, has the potential to answer fundamental questions about the regulation of cellular signaling pathways. This information can be used to develop computational models of cellular signaling pathways to predict dynamic changes in pathway properties following exposure to various physiological, pharmacological and toxicological stimuli, both in isolation and in combination.

Ultimately, his team also hopes to complement existing models of pathological oxidative stress and provide new opportunities for targeted therapies for many diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.