Amina Ann Qutub designs methods to characterize how human cells communicate during growth and regeneration. This includes the development of technologies that integrate data science, multiscale modeling, and cellular imaging to identify how changes at the molecular level affect cellular communication. This knowledge is then used to decipher how cellular communication impacts malignant growth and healthy tissue regeneration.
Building on a background in chemical engineering, neuroscience, and computer science, Qutub applies a multidisciplinary approach to understand communication in cells from two of the most complex, heterogeneous and protected microenvironments of the human body â€“ the brain and the bone marrow. Projects in her lab include uncovering how neural stem cells develop into neuronal networks, how hematological stem cells become malignant in leukemia, and how cells of the brain vasculature form new capillaries.
Fundamental discoveries about the way neurons form and the machinery that underlies a cancer cellâ€™s response to therapy are helping the lab pave the way for controlled repair of brain tissue in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimerâ€™s, potential ways to regenerate the neurovasculature following a stroke, and new treatments for leukemia.
These discoveries have also involved research focused on developing tools and methods to identify changes in cells and tissues in response to hypoxia, or limited oxygen. Hypoxia and associated hypoxic-sensitive molecular pathways play a critical role in health and disease, including controlling cell growth during brain tissue regeneration and cancer progression. Methods developed in Qutubâ€™s lab are identifying metabolic differences in healthy, hypoxic-exposed, hypoxic-adapted, and diseased mammalian cells and tissues.
Two projects involving molecular pathway analysis focus on understanding acute myeloid leukemia. In collaboration with clinicians at the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center, the lab has identified proteomic barcodes unique to subgroups of leukemia patients. The predictions are being experimentally â€˜programmedâ€™ into cells through synthetic manipulation of proteins, and the lab is testing whether these signatures lead to aggressive growth or resistance to chemotherapy.
Complementary to these projects, Qutubâ€™s lab is designing new methods to easily handle, share, and optimize the analysis of complex biomedical data.
Qutub has chaired and co-chaired U.S. National Academies Frontiers of Engineering Symposia (2016-2017), led international data challenge competitions to predict clinical outcomes for cancer patients (2014-2015), and received numerous awards for research, including: the 2017 Bioinformatics Peer Prize, a NSF Neural & Cognitive Systems Grant (2015), a NSF Early Career Development (CAREER) award (2012), a National Academies Keck Future Initiatives Grant Award (2011), a Simons Foundation Collaboration Grant for Mathematicians (2013), and two Hamill Innovation Awards from the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (2011, 2015).
What principles are so fundamental to the design of human cells that they impact how we respond to drugs and whether our tissues can self-repair? Answering this question means we could define what healthy entails for human cells and open the door for therapies that re-engineer cells to treat disease.
The Qutub Lab in Systems Biology develops integrated computational and experimental methods to uncover how human cells form tissues: with a focus on stem, neurovascular and neural cells. By combining emerging methods in data science, modeling and live imaging they are uncovering how molecular pathways integrate their signaling to change the way cells grow and communicate. The lab is using information learned from their studies and the computational tools they develop to better target therapies for cancer patients and propose new strategies for regenerating brain tissue.