The VICC.ORG Investigator Directory

Ian Macara, Ph.D.

Louise B. McGavock Professor and Chair
in Cell & Developmental Biology
VICC Member

Contact Information:

Dept. of Cell and Developmental Biology
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
465 21st Avenue S., U 3209 MRB III
Nashville, TN 37232-8240
Fax: 615-322-5060


Dr. Macara studies the development of the ducts that form breast tissue, and the mechanisms that can result in the initiation and spread of breast cancer.  Most types of cancer arise from epithelial cells.  These cells form many of the organs in the body, and arrange themselves into either sheets (such as the skin) or branching ducts (such as kidney, or mammary glands).  Epithelial cells are polarized - they have a top and bottom, which differ from one another in form and function.  Dr. Macara is studying how polarization occurs, how this process might be disrupted in cancer, and how defects in polarization contribute to invasive behavior and metastasis.

Research Specialty:

Research focuses on mammary gland morphogenesis, as well as breast cancer initiation and metastasis, and on the role of septins in cell polarity and in DNA repair.

Research Description:

Our lab is interested in the ways in which cells break symmetry, and initiate and maintain spatial asymmetries. Asymmetries can form as cells polarize, or can occur within cells, for instance during mitosis. Gradients of proteins or other molecules can create asymmetries that the cell uses to specify orientations and subcellular locations. Carcinomas arise from epithelial cells, and tumor progression involves a loss of polarity, so an understanding of cell polarity is important in the identification of novel therapeutic approaches to cancer. Cell polarity is usually lost early during tumor progression, and several polarity proteins have been identified as tumor suppressors.

We have four major programs ongoing a?? on the mechanisms that determine the polarization of mammalian epithelial cells; on the control of mammary gland morphogenesis and breast cancer initiation and metastasis; on the role of septins in cell polarity and in DNA repair; and on RNA localization.

We use a range of approaches to study these cell processes, including a new mammary gland regeneration model in which mammary stem cells are transduced with lentivirus then transplanted into the cleared fat pads of recipient mice, where the cells regenerate an entire new mammary ductal tree. We have also developed new methods to purify RNA binding proteins, and to study miRNA function in mammary gland morphogenesis. In vitro studies include 3D culture of mammary gland organoids, human breast tissue organotypic cultures, and renal epithelial cysts. We are using these systems to explore the mechanisms that control spindle orientation during mitosis; the roles of small GTPases in cell polarization; and the mechanisms underlying asymmetric cell divisions of mammary stem cells.



  • BSc - University of Sheffield, UK
  • PhD - University of Sheffield, UK
  • Postdoctoral training - Harvard University, MA

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