Dr. Deborah H. Spector, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor
Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine

spector's picture
Deborah Spector, Ph.D.
(858) 822-4003
Research Summary

Dr. Spector's lab has spent over 30 years studying human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), which is the major viral cause of birth defects, a serious problem in immunocompromised individuals, and a risk factor in atherosclerosis. Her research centers on viral pathogenesis and the molecular mechanisms used by HCMV to control its gene expression and subvert the cell's signaling and regulatory pathways. A key discovery was that HCMV modulates the ubiquitin- proteasome pathway by inactivating the anaphase promoting complex, the major E3 ubiquitin ligase in cell cycle regulation. Other areas of research include the role of HCMV in atherosclerosis and the effects of HCMV infection on the neural lineage specification and maturation of stem and progenitor cells.

Dr. Spector's group has also developed a novel strategy for vaccines against viruses that persist and establish latency, and has shown their protective efficacy in animal models of cytomegalovirus infection and genital HSV-2 infection. The underlying principle is that herpesviruses persist because natural immunity cannot eliminate the infected cells, and thus vaccination must be more effective in establishing protection than natural infection. 

Academic Achievements

Education:B.A. in Biology (1971) Smith College; Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology (1975) MIT; Postdoctoral Research (1975-78) UCSF. 

Awards and Honors:Phi Beta Kappa; Sigma Xi; NSF Grad Fellowship (1971-74); Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Postdoc. Fellowship (1975-78); Kaiser Permanente Teaching Award (1983, 1985); Visiting Professor, Hubei Medical College, Wuhan, China (10/86); Tribute to Women In Industry Award (1995); Women Who Mean Business Award (2011); Elected Fellow American Academy of Microbiology (2014). 

Leadership Experience: Founding Chair, Molecular Biology Section in Division of Biological Sciences 2000-03; Chair, American Society for Microbiology, DNA Viruses Section, 2004-05; UCSD Clinical and Translational Res. Institute - Director Translational Res. Alliance Program 2008-Present; Chair, Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program 2013- Present. 

  • Cellular and Molecular Basis of Disease (SOM 204)
  • From the Molecule to the Organism (BIOM 200)
  • Advanced Animal Virology (BGGN 226)
  • Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Therapeutics (SPPS 246B)
  • Medical Microbiology (SOM 208)
Key Contributions
  • Original discovery that the retroviral oncogene src is conserved in vertebrate genomes-(research with Dr. J. Michael Bishop and Dr. Harold Varmus).
  • Developed nucleic acid probes and techniques for screening and diagnosing human cytomegalovirus infections - US Patent 4762780.
  • Developed vaccine strategy for viruses that cause persistent and latent infections – US Patent 8501194
  • Solved problem of constructing translationally- inducible complementing primary cell lines for viruses with mutations in essential toxic genes.