Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Nagi G. Ayad, Ph.D.

Nagi G. Ayad, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Description of Research

Nagi G. Ayad, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Co-director of the University of Miami Brain Tumor Initiative, a member of the Center for Therapeutic Innovation, the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Ayad received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University in 1992, worked for Merck & Co., Inc. as a biochemist and then pursued graduate studies with Dr. Ira Mellman at Yale University. Dr. Ayad completed his Ph.D. in Cell Biology in 1998 and moved to Harvard Medical School in 1999 to perform a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Marc Kirschner. Dr. Ayad then joined The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida as an Assistant Professor in 2005 and moved to the University of Miami as an Associate Professor in 2011. Dr. Ayad’s research has focused on elucidating novel cell cycle pathways. His graduate studies identified a novel means through which endocytosis is inhibited during mitosis, while his postdoctoral studies identified two novel cell cycle regulators, Tome-1 and sororin. His work in his own laboratory has utilized high-throughput screens to identify regulators of cell cycle transitions, cancer, and neurite outgrowth. These regulators include Wee1, Casein Kinase 1, the Anaphase Promoting Complex (APC/C), and BRD4.

The main research objective of the Ayad laboratory is to identify therapeutic combinations for nervous system disorders. These include brain cancers such as glioblastoma and medulloblastoma, as well as spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury. We are working closely with chemists to generate novel brain/spinal cord penetrant epigenetic enzyme and kinase inhibitors. We are also working with the LINCS consortium to identify small molecules that target epigenetic and kinase pathways simultaneously. We collaborate with a large group of basic scientists and clinicians to move our small molecules into clinical trials. These include Dr. Ricardo Komotar, Dr. Michael Ivan, Dr. Macarena de la Fuente, Dr. Nori Kasahara, Dr. Claes Wahlestedt, Dr. Stephan Schürer, Dr. Mary E. Hatten, Dr. Martine Roussel, and Dr. Jann Sarkaria for the brain tumor work, and Drs. Jae Lee, Vance Lemmon, and John Bixby for the spinal cord injury studies. Interestingly, we find that the same small epigenetic/kinase molecule inhibitors we are developing for brain cancer are effective in spinal cord injury as they reduce inflammation.


Identifying therapeutic combinations in brain cancer and spinal cord injury

  • We are using cerebellar granule cell progenitors (GCPS) to model cell cycle exit in the nervous system. Our time series models of GCP cell cycle exit have identified targets in medulloblastoma and neurite outgrowth.
  • We are utilizing The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) data and information from the Library of Integrated Cell Signatures (LINCS) consortium to identify therapeutic combinations in glioblastoma.
  • In collaboration with laboratories at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis we are determining whether epigenetic enzymes play a role in inflammation after spinal cord injury.


Current Lab Projects Include:

  • • Therapies to reduce medulloblastoma and glioblastoma growth using epigenetic enzyme and kinase inhibitors
  • • Identifying patient specific therapeutic combinations in glioblastoma using LINCS and TCGA data.
  • • Therapies to reduce inflammation after spinal cord injury.


  • Identified two novel cell cycle proteins Tome-1 and sororin, which are overexpressed in multiple cancers.
  • Demonstrated that the APC-Cdh1 complex targets the oncogene Skp2 for degradation.
  • Discovered a requirement for the tumor suppressor protein complex APC-Cdh1 for exiting the cell cycle in cerebellar granule cell progenitors, which are the cells that give rise to the most prevalent pediatric brain tumor, medulloblastoma.
  • Demonstrated that the cell cycle protein Wee1 is targeted for degradation via its activation domain.
  • Developed a cell-based high-throughput means of identifying parts of proteins required for protein turnover.
  • Developed ultra-highthroughput means of identifying small molecule inhibitors of Wee1 destruction.
  • Identified highly specific small molecule inhibitors of GSK-3 and CK-1 through collaborations with Scripps Florida. These molecules are currently being tested in mouse models of medulloblastoma and glioblastoma.
  • Demonstrated the cell cycle role of Bromodomain and extra-terminal domain proteins in glioblastoma and medulloblastoma.

Selected Cancer-Related Publications

  • Clarke J, Penas C, Pastori C, Komotar RJ, Bregy A, Shah AH, Wahlestedt C, Ayad NG. Epigenetic pathways and glioblastoma treatment. Epigenetics 8:,2013 Read more »


Collaborating in the Multidisciplinary Research Program(s):

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