Nancy Carrasco, a leader in the study of membrane transporters, was the first scientist to clone and extensively characterize at the molecular level the sodium/iodide symporter (NIS), the key plasma membrane protein that mediates the active transport of iodide in the thyroid. Numerous scientists had sought to identify this transporter for decades, owing to its physiological and pathophysiological significance. Carrasco’s pioneering findings on NIS include key mechanistic information on the protein-obtained largely by determining the molecular requirements of NIS at positions bearing mutations in patients-as well as the discovery that NIS transports different substrates with different stoichiometries; that it actively transports the environmental pollutant perchlorate, settling a longstanding controversy; and that it is expressed in the lactating breast and in breast cancer. Carrasco received her MD and Master’s in Biochemistry degrees from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in her native Mexico City. She was a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. H. Ronald Kaback’s laboratory at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology. Carrasco joined the faculty at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1987 and the Yale School of Medicine in 2011. She has received numerous national and international awards, has been president of the Society of Latin American Biophysicists, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Nancy Carrasco's main area of interest is transport across biological membranes, particularly by the sodium/iodide symporter (NIS), the key plasma membrane protein that mediates active iodide uptake in the thyroid. Carrasco's group cloned NIS and has made great strides in characterizing it at the molecular level. NIS is at the center of the treatment for thyroid cancer based on administering radioiodide post-thyroidectomy, the most effective targeted internal radiation cancer therapy ever devised. Carrasco's group has discovered that functional NIS is endogenously expressed in breast cancer, opening up the possibility that this disease too could be treated with radioiodide. Carrasco's group has investigated the function and regulation of NIS in extrathyroidal tissues and in cancer to extend the clinical use of NIS beyond thyroid disease. They have obtained key structure/function information on NIS and identified amino acid residues that play crucial roles in substrate binding, translocation, specificity, and stoichiometry, and in targeting NIS to the cell surface. They are currently using these findings to optimize NIS molecules for use as reporter and therapeutic molecules in gene transfer studies. Carrasco's group has demonstrated that NIS transports different anion substrates with different stoichiometries, and is working to elucidate the structural basis for this versatility. They have also shown that NIS actively transports the anion perchlorate, an environmental pollutant. This suggests that the health effects of exposure to perchlorate are more serious than previously thought.

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Section 23: Physiology and Pharmacology