Focus On: Autophagy and Cancer

Christina Towers, Ph.D. and Jayanta (Jay) Debnath, Ph.D.
Cancer Center Seminar Series-NCI-Designated Cancer Center
Jayanta (Jay) Debnath, Ph.D. and Christina (Christie) Towers, Ph.D.

Date and time

March 7, 2022

10:00 AM - 11:15 AM PT



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We're bringing together two types of leaders in cancer research.


Seminar Recording


Jayanta (Jay) Debnath, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor and Chair
Department of Pathology
UC San Francisco

"Secretory Autophagy and Tumor Desmoplasia"

Dr. Jay Debnath is Distinguished Professor and Chair of Pathology at the University of California, San Francisco. His laboratory is widely recognized for its expertise on the diverse cell biological roles of autophagy during cancer progression and metastasis.

Dr. Debnath is a board-certified pathologist, who received his M.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard Medical School, completed clinical residency training in pathology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He completed post-doctoral research training at the Harvard Medical School Department of Cell Biology with Prof. Joan Brugge, where he became known for his studies on oncogene regulation of cell death using three-dimensional (3D) organotypic culture systems. His laboratory pursues two broad goals: 1) delineate the multifaceted roles of autophagy in adhesion independent survival in vitro as well as on breast cancer progression and metastatic disease in vivo; and 2) dissect the biochemical and in vivo physiological functions of the molecules that control autophagy (called ATGs) to ultimately exploit this process for therapeutic benefit. Recently, he has been illuminating how the autophagy pathway orchestrates secretory and exocytic functions distinct from its long-recognized roles in catabolism.

Dr. Debnath currently serves as Cancer Section Chief Editor of Autophagy, Editor of the Annual Reviews of Pathology and on the editorial board of Genes and Development. He has previously served as Chair of the Programmatic Review Panel for the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (2018) and Chair of the Tumor Cell Biology Study Section for NIH (2016-18). His major honors include: HHMI Early Career Award for Physician Scientists (2006), DOD Breast Cancer Research Program Era of Hope Scholar Award (2011), elected membership into the American Society of Clinical Investigation (2013), American Society of Cell Biology Keith Porter Mid-Career Investigator Award (2016), Ramzi Cotran Memorial Lectureship from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School (2019), and American Society of Investigative Pathology Outstanding Investigator Award (2021).

Christina (Christie) Towers, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Molecular and Cell Biology
Salk Institute

"Mechanisms to Circumvent Autophagy Inhibition in Cancer"

Christina G. Towers is an Assistant Professor at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in San Diego, California. After completing her PhD at the University of Colorado, she went on to pursue her post-doctoral studies also at The University of Colorado in Dr. Andrew Thorburn’s lab. During this time, Dr. Towers developed unique CRISPR/Cas9 tools to understand the recycling process and autophagy in cancer cells. Her work uncovered novel mechanisms that cancer cells can use to adapt to and circumvent autophagy inhibition. As a post-doc, Christie was awarded a number of fellowships including the American Cancer Society Fellowship as well as the K99/R00 transition award from the NCI. Dr. Towers launched her lab at the Salk in July of 2021 and the lab is focused on taking a dive deeper into cancer cell metabolism and autophagy using optogenetics, single cell tracing, and high-resolution microscopy.