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Maho Niwa, Ph.D.

University of California San Diego


Maho Niwa, Ph.D., is a Professor of Molecular Biology in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California San Diego. Dr. Niwa received her Ph.D. from Baylor College of Medicine with Dr. Susan Berget, pioneering how exons are molecularly chosen from the sea of intron sequences present in each human gene. Dr. Niwa joined Dr. Peter Walter’s laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, where she received postdoctoral training, supported by a Jane Coffin Childs postdoctoral fellowship. Dr. Niwa started her own laboratory at UCSD in 2002. Her past honors include a Searle Foundation Faculty Scholar award, and two American Cancer Society Faculty Scholar awards. Research in Dr. Niwa’s laboratory focuses on understanding how the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), the gateway to the secretory pathway and source of most lipids and approximately one-third of all cellular proteins, regulates these functional demands in response to distinct environmental, developmental, or disease cues. This is achieved by studying a stress signaling pathway called the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR). Dr. Niwa studies how mis-regulation of the UPR leads to human diseases, ranging from asthma to cancer. Her lab also discovered a cell cycle checkpoint in yeast that ensures that all dividing cells receive both functionally correct and spatially sufficient ER during the cell cycle. This was one of the first cell cycle checkpoints found to regulate the inheritance of the cytoplasmic components and is known as the ER stress surveillance (ERSU) checkpoint. In yeast, ERSU halts ER inheritance, leading to a block of cell division until the ER can be repaired. Recently, the Niwa lab made seminal discoveries in both yeast and mammals that ER stress induces specific sphingolipids and these in turn act as key inducers for the ER cell cycle checkpoint. In collaboration with Dr. Katherine Ullman (Huntsman Cancer Institute, U. Utah), she plans to investigate how the ER communicates with the architecture and function of the nucleus, unleashing a new exciting area of cell biology.

Science Programs at Allen Institute