Dept. of Biology
School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Contact Information:

Office Address: 
Phone: 205-975-6097
Websites: Tollefsbol Lab


University of Houston
BS, Biology, 1974

University of North Texas Health Sciences Center
MS, 1977

University of North Texas Health Sciences Center
DO, 1979

University of North Texas Health Sciences Center
PhD, 1982

Post-Graduate Training:

Duke University Medical Center
Postdoctoral Fellow, 1982-4

Research Description:

Dr. Tollefsbol’s research is primarily involved with cancer and aging epigenetics, the underlying mechanisms of cancer and aging and novel therapeutic approaches to cancer.  This work has also involved translational research on leukemia, breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and teratocarcinomas as well as other cancers.  The single most important risk factor for developing cancer is age; therefore, both cancer and aging have been a focus of Dr. Tollefsbol’s research.  The centerpiece of much of the research in aging and cancer genetics involves damage to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).  Recently telomere shortening has been shown to be associated with DNA damage.  Located at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes and synthesized by the enzyme telomerase, telomeres maintain the length of chromosomes.  The majority of human cancer cells express high levels of telomerase and inhibition of telomerase activity kills the cancer cells without effect on most normal somatic cells.  The catalytic subunit of telomerase that carries out its enzymatic activity is referred to as human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT).  The gene for this protein is inactivated early in embryonic development contributing to cellular aging and it is reactivated in about 90% of cancers, allowing these cells to grow indefinitely. 

Studies on the role of telomerase in cancer and aging have made many lists of the most important future research areas in biological sciences.  Dr. Tollefsbol’s laboratory is interested in the epigenetic regulation of the gene that produces telomerase (hTERT) and in unraveling the mysteries of how this gene relates to cancer and aging.  Epigenetic processes are heritable changes that do not involve mutations, but rather, modifications of DNA or its associated proteins and Dr. Tollefsbol’s laboratory is interested in these processes as controllers of telomerase gene expression as well as epigenetic mechanisms in cancer and aging in general.  Dr. Tollefsbol’s laboratory is also interested in discovering novel approaches to inhibiting the telomerase gene in cancers as a future gene therapy strategy and the translational potential of green tea and retinoids in inhibiting telomerase in neoplastic cells.  The laboratory is using or has plans to use many cutting-edge technological developments in cancer and aging genetics and translational research such as RNA interference (RNAi), chromatin immunoprecipitation assays and microarray analysis as well as proteomics and metabolomics. 


DRC Membership Category:

Senior Scientist