A North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University professor received $1.4 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences to investigate the biochemical mechanisms that facilitate communication within and between cells in the human body.

Robert Newman, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Biology, is researching cellular signaling pathways, or simply put, how cells know what to do and when to do it. Newman’s research, which is focused on phosphorylation-dependent signaling pathways mediated by protein kinases and phosphatases, holds possibilities for improved treatments for diseases ranging from cancer to diabetes to heart disease.

A typical cellular signaling pathway is composed of an array of signaling molecules—including small molecule second messengers and various types of signaling enzymes, such as protein kinases and small G-proteins—acting in a coordinated fashion to process information about the cellular environment. However, these signaling pathways do not operate in isolation. In fact, hundreds of intersecting signaling pathways are operating simultaneously to process information about both the cell’s external environment and its internal state. Moreover, the same signaling molecules are often involved in multiple cellular signaling pathways. For instance, a given signaling enzyme, such as one of the 518 protein kinases encoded in the human genome, might play a role in regulating diverse cellular processes, such as cell proliferation and programmed cell death.

Originally published Feb. 20, 2019.