Dr Emer Bourke

Lecturer in Discipline of Pathology
Principal Investigator

Research interests

  • Centrosome amplification in cancer
  • Molecular differences in centrosome function in breast cancer subtypes
  • Manipulating centrosome amplification as therapy

Research overview

The centrosome is a key cellular organelle, which duplicates once per cell cycle, required to direct formation of the bipolar mitotic spindle during cell division. A correctly assembled mitotic apparatus is required to properly separate replicated sister chromosomes, and defects affecting separation profoundly affect chromosome integrity, leading to genetically instability. Excessive centrosome number termed centrosome amplification (CA: >2 centrosomes per cell) is a characteristic of most human tumours. A common molecular mechanism triggering centrosome amplification is DNA damage, and together they can induce further genomic instability through chromosome missegregation.

Breast Cancer affects 1/8 women (with ~22% mortality) and is categorised clinically into four distinct subtypes; Luminal A, Luminal B, Her2-overexpressing, Triple negative (TNBC:basal/claudin-low). Subtypes differ in disease severity (survival), treatment options (some subtype specific) and clinical outcome. This highlights that an individualised subtype-specific understanding and approach to breast cancer treatment is vital for improving survival rates.

My group investigates the basic molecular mechanisms underpinning how breast tumours adapt to CA including increased genomic instability, structural, and signalling changes. Importantly, we investigate how these molecular changes lead to, and influence tumour invasion and metastases.

My group translates and investigates basic (cell-based) discoveries using breast cancer patient samples (collected at University Hospital Galway). My multi-disciplinary collaborations (including clinical and translational colleagues) allow investigation of how our basic breakthroughs could be applied to improve breast cancer diagnosis or prognosis. Illuminating key pathogenic and molecular mechanisms that underpin the development and spread of breast cancer (centrosome related) is necessary to better understand individual subtypes, and importantly identify new prognostic and therapeutic targets, ultimately with the aim of improving patient outcomes.

Selected publications

  • Prakash A, Garcia-Moreno JF, Brown JAL, Bourke E. Clinically Applicable Inhibitors Impacting Genome Stability. Molecules. May 13;23(5). (2018)
  • Mohrin M, Bourke E, Alexander D, Warr M, Barry-Holson K, LeBeau M, Morrison CG and Passegu√© E. Hematopoietic stem cell quiescence promotes error prone DNA repair and mutagenesis. Cell Stem Cell, Aug 6;7(2):174-85 (2010).
  • Bourke E, Brown JA, Takeda S, Hochegger H, Morrison CG. DNA damage induces Chk1-dependent threonine-160 phosphorylation and activation of Cdk2. Oncogene. Jan 28;29(4):616-24 (2010)
  • Bourke E, Dodson H, Merdes A, Cuffe L, Zachos G, Walker M, Gillespie D, Morrison CG. DNA damage induces Chk1-dependent centrosome amplification. EMBO Rep. Jun;8(6):603-9 (2007)