Center founding director Jan-Åke Gustafsson joined the university in 2009 to establish the Center as a research hub with access to collaborators from as nearby as the Texas Medical Center, to as distant as the Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China. Today, Gustafsson and his team continue to build on his initial discoveries and answer questions about how nuclear receptors regulate health functions within the human body.
Estrogen receptor-beta (ERβ) was first discovered by Gustafsson and his collaborators in 1996. The discovery led to a paradigm shift in the understanding of the mechanism of action of estrogens. The breakthrough proved that the estrogenic hormones could act by either one of two receptors, ER-alpha (ERα) or ERβ. While the receptor functions are completely different, the two receptors balance each other in an interdependent relationship.
One of the most significant differences between the two receptors is that ERα enhances cell division and cell proliferation, a recurring phenomenon in cancer cells. Studies have shown that ERα is involved in cancer in the uterus and breast, and that the receptor may cause many of the negative side effects seen in estrogen treatment for patients. ERβ, on the other hand, is anti-proliferative. To achieve this effect, the Gustafsson research team has developed mouse models, in which they are able to study ERα and ERβ actions separately.
Award of Merit, Princess Takamatsu Cancer Research Fund, 2009
- The Grand Nordic Fernström Prize of the University of Lund, 2009
- The Grand Silver Medal of the Karolinska Institutet, 2011
Honorary Doctor in Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, Finland, 2011
Honorary Doctor of Medicine, University of Athens, Athens, Greece, 2014
Honorary Fellow at South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, 2014
Honorary Doctor in Medicine, University of Athens, Greece, 2015
Distinguished Professor of Dalian Medical University, China, 2015
Jan-Åke Gustafsson, M.D., Ph.D.
Founding Director, Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling
Robert A. Welch Professor
Department of Biology and Biochemistry
University of Houston
Houston, Texas 77204-5001
Office: 3027 SERC