Hilary Coller, PhD

Hilary Coller, Ph.D. 

Associate Professor, Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology; Biological Chemistry

Bio

Hilary A. Coller, Ph.D., focuses her research on understanding the molecular basis of cellular quiescence, a temporary state during which cells do not proliferate or divide to produce more cells. The ultimate aim of this work is to cure human diseases associated with excess cell proliferation, such as cancer, and a lack of cell proliferation, such as chronic wounds. 

Quiescence is a common state for many non-reproductive cells including adult stem cells.  When cells fail to appropriately regulate the transition between quiescence and proliferation, several common and lethal disorders can arise. While the commonly held perception of quiescence is as an inactive or sleepy state, Coller’s research instead suggests that quiescence is an active and highly regulated process.

Coller’s discovery that quiescent cells can maintain metabolic activity, meaning that they continue to use nutrients to fuel their activity, opens up interesting new avenues for cancer treatment. Despite significant advances in cancer therapeutics, relapse following remission remains a persistent problem for many patients. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is that cancer cells can be left behind following treatment without detection because they are in a quiescent state. When these quiescent cancer cells resume activity, they rapidly proliferate and trigger a relapse in cancer. Coller is investigating methods to prevent cancer resurgence by keeping quiescent cells in their inactive state, finding a way to target and kill them, or kicking them back into a proliferative state and targeting them with selective therapies.

Coller’s research on the transition between quiescence and proliferation could have major implications for healing chronic wounds and developing methods to regenerate damaged or diseased tissues and organs. Many tissue-specific stem cells are programmed to remain in a state of quiescence to avoid unnecessary cell division. When an injury is detected, these cells enter an active phase to produce the cells needed to repair damage. If these cells are unable to reenter an active state, full repair is not possible, leading to chronic wounds. Coller aims to discover the molecular signals, such as proteins, that trigger quiescent cells to spring to action. With this information, drugs that stimulate quiescent cells to respond to injury and regenerate tissue could be developed.

Coller earned a doctorate in toxicology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and performed postdoctoral training at the Whitehead Institute and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

 

Honors & Affiliations

Affiliations

  • Section Head and Associate Editor, Physiological Genomics
  • Review Editor, Frontiers
  • American Society for Cell Biology
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • American Association for Cancer Research
  • Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

Funding

Coller’s work is funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Cancer Research Institute.