Julie Saba, MD, PhD
Professor in Residence, Department of Pediatrics, UCSF
Dr. Julie Saba is a pediatric oncologist and basic research scientist. Her research team is focused on elucidating novel biochemical and genetic mechanisms responsible for the development and progression of childhood cancers. Early in her career, Dr. Saba theorized that sphingolipids, a unique family of lipids that control cell growth and death, played a key role in carcinogenesis. Using a yeast genetic approach, she identified the first known genes of sphingolipid metabolism, opening the pathway to genetic manipulation. Now, three decades later, many hundreds of scientific studies have confirmed the contributions of sphingolipids to carcinogenesis, metastasis, and chemotherapy resistance. Dr. Saba’s group established that pro-inflammatory sphingolipids play a fundamental role in mediating cell transformation, the first step in carcinogenesis. They demonstrated that sphingolipids provide a biochemical link between inflammation and carcinogenesis. She has also shown the importance of dietary anti-inflammatory plant sphingolipids in cancer chemoprevention.
The Saba team is currently focused on clarifying the role of an oncogene called AF1q in neuroblastoma, pediatric brain tumors, and adult cancers. Their group has found that AF1q is regulated by sphingolipids and acts through varied mechanisms to promote the growth and survival of different types of cancer, such as by suppressing cellular senescence (aging) and augmenting the cellular expression of other cancer-promoting genes. Dr. Saba’s other projects focus on the discovery of a rare inborn error of sphingolipid metabolism in a cancer-related gene called SGPL1. Her group is developing gene therapy for the condition and exploring whether the affected individuals or their parents exhibit a cancer predisposition.
The Saba Laboratory has been designated as a Swim Across America Laboratory for Pediatric Cancer Research by Swim Across America, a national non-profit organization dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention, and treatment.
The Johns Hopkins University, MD, B.S., 05/1981, Natural Sciences
University of Maryland, School of Medicine, MD, M.D., 05/1985, Medicine
The Johns Hopkins University, MD, M.A., 05/1986, Creative Writing
Duke University, NC, Ph.D., 05/1996, Cell Biology