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Cell Death Laboratory

Photo of Gayathri R. Devi, PhD

Gayathri R. Devi, PhD

Office: 421 Medical Sciences Building Research Drive, Room 477 Durham, NC 27710
Phone: 919-684-8633

Scientific Focus

The research group, under the direction of Dr. Gayathri Devi, focuses on translational and clinical applications of programmed cell death signaling. Cell death is a critical process in tissue sculpting, adult cell homeostasis, for destruction of damaged cells and in pathobiology. We are, in particular, interested in elucidating molecular mechanisms of stress-induced cell survival/death signaling in normal and cancer cells and how this process regulates immune response.

Our work has identified the dominant role of a class of anti-cell death proteins called Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins (IAPs) in cancer cell survival and during development of acquired resistance to extrinsic and intrinsic death signals. Current funded research projects in the lab focus on innovative approaches toward immunosuppressive minimization, in vitro and in vivo tumor biology models, novel approaches toward islet xenotransplantation, and innovative preclinical models and strategies to modulate this anti-cell death.

Dr. Devi has also established a special research program to study inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), designated a rare and distinct type of breast cancer and a cancer health disparity by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Dr. Devi is an American Cancer Society Research Scholar Grant Awardee from Duke University. Prior to joining Duke, she received training in both academic research in the area of growth factor receptor signaling at Oregon Health and Sciences University, and in the biotechnology sector at AVI BioPharma, Inc. in the area of genomics-based anti-cancer drug development.

Key Projects Underway

  • XIAP-NFκB tumor cell signaling in evasion of immune-mediated cell death
  • Development of novel preclinical models/assays to study tumor emboli, dermal invasion, and lymphatic dissemination
  • Understanding stromal tumor cell tropism and the development of nanotheranostics for inflammatory breast cancer therapy
  • Molecular mechanisms of health disparities in inflammatory breast cancer; screening strategies and repurposing drugs to improve standard of care of locally advanced breast cancer
  • Characterization of ToxCast environmental chemical library in anti-cancer therapeutic resistance
  • Elucidating cell death mechanisms limiting xenotransplantation and defining strategies to improve islet survival
  • Development of a program in multidisciplinary education and research in translational sciences (Duke MERITS)

Selected Achievements

Recent research highlights include the development of a novel redox modulation approach for breast cancer therapy. We have identified an adaptive stress-response signaling pathway (characterized by NFkB transcriptional signature) in locally advanced tumors, including inflammatory breast cancer. This finding has led to the discovery of the use of the FDA-approved drug disulfiram (DSF) when combined with copper to target pNFkB, cancer stem-like cells, and to increase tumor cell kill. These results were published in the Molecular Oncology Journal, 2015 (PMID: 25769405). The current goal of the collaborative team is to extend this to breast cancer clinical trials.

Our body of work has identified the central role of the X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP) in adaptive stress-response signaling, which leads to both de novo and acquired resistance to cell death stimuli. In recently completed studies published in the Cell Death and Disease Journal (PMID: 26821068), we have discovered that XIAP expression can cause immunosuppression and is a critical modulator of responses to antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxity in cancer cells. We are developing strategies to target the effects of XIAP on the activation of caspases and pNFkB and the suppression of reactive oxygen species to enhance the activity of immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and EGFR/HER2-targeted drugs.

Press Coverage

Advanced Training

Research opportunities available for undergrads, med students, PhD candidates, etc.

Contact Us

Gayathri Devi, PhD

Gail Morrah

Latest Publications

Al Abo, Muthana, Larisa Gearhart-Serna, Steven Van Laere, Jennifer A. Freedman, Steven R. Patierno, Eun-Sil Shelley Hwang, Savitri Krishnamurthy, Kevin P. Williams, and Gayathri R. Devi. “Adaptive stress response genes associated with breast cancer subtypes and survival outcomes reveal race-related differences.” Npj Breast Cancer 8, no. 1 (June 13, 2022): 73.

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Rypens, Charlotte, François Bertucci, Pascal Finetti, Fredika Robertson, Sandra V. Fernandez, Naoto Ueno, Wendy A. Woodward, et al. “Comparative transcriptional analyses of preclinical models and patient samples reveal MYC and RELA driven expression patterns that define the molecular landscape of IBC.” Npj Breast Cancer 8, no. 1 (January 18, 2022): 12.

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Schirmer, Amelia U., Lucy M. Driver, Megan T. Zhao, Carrow I. Wells, Julie E. Pickett, Sean N. O’Bryne, Benjamin J. Eduful, et al. “Non-canonical role of Hippo tumor suppressor serine/threonine kinase 3 STK3 in prostate cancer.” Mol Ther 30, no. 1 (January 5, 2022): 485–500.

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Gearhart-Serna, Larisa M., Moises Tacam, Theodore A. Slotkin, and Gayathri R. Devi. “Analysis of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon intake in the US adult population from NHANES 2005-2014 identifies vulnerable subpopulations, suggests interaction between tobacco smoke exposure and sociodemographic factors.” Environ Res 201 (October 2021): 111614.

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