Karen Oegema
Tumor biology


BS, Chemistry, California Institute of Technology

PhD, Cell Biology, University of California, San Francisco

I lead the laboratory of Mitotic Mechanisms at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in San Diego. My laboratory works at the interface between cell and cancer biology. Our focus is on understanding the molecular machinery that controls cell division, and how variation in the cell division machinery between cell types can be exploited to engineer targeted therapeutic strategies in cancer.

My group has had a long-term interest in the cellular mechanisms underlying mitosis and cytokinesis. This research has revealed that in addition to common themes, there is also significant variation between cell types in how cell division is accomplished. A major focus of the lab is to determine whether these differences can be leveraged to induce death due to aberrant mitosis in a cell type specific fashion as a therapeutic strategy. For example, in our mechanistic work on centrosomes, we have made contributions to understanding the pathway that controls centrosome duplication, which depends on a centrally important regulatory kinase called Plk4.

To explore the therapeutic potential of centrosome removal in cancer, we collaborated with the Small Molecule Development Group headed by Andrew Shiau in the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research to develop the first specific, potent, cellularly active Plk4 inhibitor. The inhibitor we developed, which is called centrinone, prevents centrosome duplication, which depletes centrosomes from human cells. Our experiments using centrinone have revealed striking differences in how cells respond to centrosome removal and have suggested that centrosome removal could have strong therapeutic potential for specific cancer types.

My scientific achievements have been recognized by a Pew Scholar Award in the Biomedical Sciences, by my selection for the Early and Mid-Career Women in Cell Biology awards from the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), in 2006 and 2017 and by my election as an ASCB fellow in 2017.

Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive,
Cellular and Molecular Medicine East Building
La Jolla, California, U.S. 92093-0670

T 858 534 7802
F 858 534 7750


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