Babraham Institute
Cambridge, CB22 3AT
+44 (0)1223 496 000

The Babraham Institute

Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

Heidi Welch

Our lab is part of the Signalling Programme at the Babraham Institute. We study the molecular mechanisms which regulate Rac, an important protein that controls cell shape, cell movement, gene expression and oxygen radical formation. In particular, we study the proteins which activate Rac, so-called Rac-GEFs. Rac can be activated by many different types of Rac-GEFs

A few years ago, we discovered a new type, the P-Rex family Rac-GEFs, and we have been studying the mechanisms that regulate their activity and their functional roles. P-Rex family Rac-GEFs differ from other types in the unique way by which they are regulated, making them, in turn, activate Rac in unique circumstances. They are important for the ability of our white blood cells to defend us against bacterial and fungal infections, for the shape and electrical functions of the nerve cells that control coordination of movement, and for the distribution of skin pigment cells during animal development. They also cooperate with other types of Rac-GEFs in the control of inflammation. Importantly, we and others have found that deregulation of the cellular amount or activity of P-Rex family Rac-GEFs contributes to inflammatory disorders, cancer growth and metastasis.

Currently, our lab is investigating new functional roles of P-Rex and other families of Rac-GEFs, particularly in inflammatory cells, as well as inventing new ways of monitoring and controlling Rac-GEF activity. One of these recent developments is a small-molecule P-Rex inhibitor which we hope will provide a useful basis for the future development of new anti-inflammatory drugs.