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Robert Cornell, PhD

Vice Chair for Research
Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology

Contact Information

1-400 D Bowen Science Bldg.
51 Newton Road
Iowa City, IA 52242


BS, Biological Sciences, with Honors, Stanford University
PhD, Biochemistry, University of Washington
Postdoctoral Fellow, Neuroscience/Genetics, University of Oregon

Education/Training Program Affiliations

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Molecular Medicine, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience, Medical Scientist Training Program

Research Summary

Our work aims to dissect the gene regulatory networks that govern cell lineage specification, cell survival and cellular differentiation during embryonic development. In these studies we use zebrafish, a vertebrate model system well-suited to genetic and embryological methods. ?The Cornell lab group is currently pursuing several major projects. Members of the Transcription factor Activator Protein-2 (Tfap2) family are implicated in progression of melanoma and breast cancer, and are associated with risk for craniofacial abnormalities. We are studying how Tfap2 proteins fit into the gene regulatory networks governing development of melanocytes, of keratinocytes, and of the neural crest. Another focus is the gene regulatory network governing development of the periderm, a superficial epithelial structure. This network includes the transcription factor Interferon Regulatory Factor 6 (IRF6); mutations in IRF6 cause orofacial clefting. Improved knowledge of this network should facilitate efforts to identify other genes that, when damaged, contribute risk for orofacial clefting. Finally, networks of regulatory molecules control the expression of genes encoding differentiation effectors. We are studying how a family of ion channels, the transient receptor potential, melastatin-like (TRPM) proteins, effect the differentiation of melanocytes and dopaminergic neurons. Overall, research illuminates the genetic pathways that govern specification, survival, and differentiation of cells. It also provides insight into how these pathways become disrupted in a variety of disease states, including birth defects, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease. Students interested in joining Dr. Cornell's laboratory can do so through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs in Genetics (http://genetics.grad.uiowa.edu/), Molecular and Cell Biology (http://molcellbio.grad.uiowa.edu/), or Neuroscience (http://neuroscience.grad.uiowa.edu/).