Profile: Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Department: Developmental & Stem Cell Biology, SickKids Research Institute
Dr. Ciruna’s research program combines genetics, embryology and cell biological approaches to understand how changes in cell polarity control cell structure and movement during organogenesis. Epithelial cells routinely exhibit two types of polarity – apicobasal (AB) polarity and planar cell polarity (PCP). AB polarity is an intrinsic property of each cell, and is required for normal function (including the apical differentiation of primary cilia – microtubule-based organelles that project into the extracellular space, and function in the perception and integration of environmental signals). PCP synchronizes polarity across a field of cells, and coordinates mass cell movements that shape the vertebrate body during embryogenesis. Defects in PCP and ciliogenesis result in congenital malformations like spina bifida and craniorachischisis (neural tube closure defects that affect one in every 1000 pregnancies); Polycystic Kidney Disease (the most common hereditary life-threatening syndrome, afflicting 1 in 500 individuals); as well as the metastatic progression of cancer (responsible for >80% of all cancer-related deaths). Dr. Ciruna’s research uses zebrafish as a genetically tractable model organism to interrogate fundamental mechanisms that regulate PCP and ciliary signals during normal embryonic development and in disease.