Alfred Merrill




Primary School/Department: 
School of Biological Sciences
Title 2: 
Smithgall Chair in Molecular Cell Biology

Office Location: 
IBB 3309
Georgia Institute of Technology

Research Affiliations:

Research Center Affiliations: 
Center for Bio-Imaging Mass Spectrometry
Integrated Cancer Research Center
Center for ImmunoEngineering
Center for Drug Design Development & Delivery

Research Areas:

Research Areas: 
Cancer Biology
Drug Design, Development and Delivery

Research Interests:

My laboratory studies a category of lipids, termed sphingolipids, that are important in cell structure, cell-cell communication and signal transduction. This research concerns both complex sphingolipids (sphingomyelins and glycosphingolipids) and the lipid backbones (ceramide, sphingosine, sphingosine 1-phosphate and others) that regulate diverse cell behaviors, including growth, differentiation, autophagy and programmed cell death. The major tool that we use to identify and quantify these compounds is tandem mass spectrometry, which we employ in combination with liquid chromatography for "lipidomic" analysis and in other mass spectrometry platforms (e.g., MALDI) for "tissue imaging" mass spectrometry.  To assist interpretation of the mass spectrometry results, and to predict where interesting changes in sphingolipid metabolism might occur, we use tools for visualization of gene expression data in a pathway context (e.g., a "SphingoMAP").  These methods are used to characterize how sphingolipids are made, act, and turned over under both normal conditions and diseases where sphingolipids are involved, such as cancer, and where disruption of these pathways can cause disease, as occurs upon consumption of fumonisins.  Since sphingolipids are also components of food, we determine how dietary sphingolipids are digested and taken up, and become part of the body's "sphingolipidome."