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Shawn Ferguson, PhD

Associate Professor of Cell Biology and of Neuroscience
Shawn Ferguson
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The goal of research in my lab is to understand how the status of lysosomes is sensed and how lysosomal function is regulated to meet cellular demands. The basic building blocks (amino acids, sugars, lipids and nucleotides) released by degradation of lysosomal substrates represent important sources of energy during starvation and of material for new macromolecule synthesis to support cell growth and/or remodeling. Conversely, lysosomes are critical for the turnover and clearance from cells of damaged organelles and protein aggregates. The importance of maintaining optimal lysosomal function is illustrated by contributions of lysosome dysfunction to human neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, Frontotemporal Dementia, Parkinson’s disease and lysosomal storage disorders such as Batten’s disease. Furthermore, the role played by lysosomes in sensing cellular energy and nutrient levels and transducing this information into signals controlling growth represents a potential therapeutic target in cancer. With this growing appreciation of the roles played by lysosomes in health and disease, we ultimately seek to address the following fundamental questions:

(A) How do cells sense and regulate the status of their lysosomes?

(B) How is lysosomal function altered in disease states?

(C) Can lysosomal function be modulated for therapeutic purposes?

To address these questions we combine live cell imaging to monitor the dynamic recruitment of proteins to lysosomes with proteomic approaches to define the molecular basis for this recruitment and high-throughput siRNA screening to identify new mechanisms controlling lysosomal homeostasis. Insights obtained through these strategies will contribute to answering fundamental cell biological questions concerning organelle homeostasis and are expected to be of direct relevance to human health.

Education & Training

  • PhD
    Vanderbilt University (2004)
  • MS
    University of Ottawa (1999)
  • BS
    University of Ottawa (1997)

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