Sabrina Spencer, Ph.D.

Sabrina Spencer

Year of Graduation: 



Prof. Peter K. Sorger

Current Position: 

Associate Professor , University of Colorado-Boulder

Current Research: 

Research in the lab is focused on understanding how signaling events control cell fate.  Studying these processes in single cells reveals remarkable cell-to-cell variability in response to stimuli, even among genetically identical cells in a uniform environment.  We seek to understand the sources and consequences of this heterogeneity in the cellular response to stimuli.  The stimuli we study include growth factors, cell stress, and targeted cancer therapeutics.  To do this, we develop genetically encoded fluorescent sensors for signaling events of interest.  We then use long-term live-cell microscopy and cell tracking to quantify the dynamics of upstream signals and link them to cell fate (proliferation, quiescence, apoptosis, differentiation).  Our long-term goal is to understand the normal mechanistic functioning of signaling pathways that control proliferation, to understand how these signals go awry in cancer, and eventually to alter the fate of individual cells.  

Spencer Lab Website 

Interest/Hobbies: Ballet, salsa, literature, languages, travel, photpgraphy, sailing

Doctoral Thesis Title: Origins of Cell-To-Cell Variability in Apoptosis

Publications while at MIT: 

1. Cells surviving fractional killing by TRAIL exhibit transient but sustainable resistance and inflammatory phenotypes.

Flusberg DA, Roux J, Spencer SL, Sorger PK.

Mol Biol Cell. 2013 Jul;24(14):2186-200. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E12-10-0737. Epub 2013 May 22.PMID:23699397 Free PMC Article


2. Exploring the contextual sensitivity of factors that determine cell-to-cell variability in receptor-mediated apoptosis.

Gaudet S, Spencer SL, Chen WW, Sorger PK.

PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(4):e1002482. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002482. Epub 2012 Apr 26.PMID:22570596 Free PMC Article


3. Measuring and modeling apoptosis in single cells.

Spencer SL, Sorger PK.

Cell. 2011 Mar 18;144(6):926-39. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.03.002. Review.PMID:21414484 Free PMC Article

4. Systematic calibration of a cell signaling network model.

Kim KA, Spencer SL, Albeck JG, Burke JM, Sorger PK, Gaudet S, Kim DH.

BMC Bioinformatics. 2010 Apr 23;11:202. doi: 10.1186/1471-2105-11-202.PMID:20416044 Free PMC Article

5. Non-genetic cell-to-cell variability and the consequences for pharmacology.

Niepel M, Spencer SL, Sorger PK.

Curr Opin Chem Biol. 2009 Dec;13(5-6):556-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2009.09.015. Epub 2009 Oct 14. Review.PMID:19833543 Free PMC Article


6. Non-genetic origins of cell-to-cell variability in TRAIL-induced apoptosis.

Spencer SL, Gaudet S, Albeck JG, Burke JM, Sorger PK.

Nature. 2009 May 21;459(7245):428-32. doi: 10.1038/nature08012. Epub 2009 Apr 12.PMID:19363473 Free PMC Article


7. Modeling a snap-action, variable-delay switch controlling extrinsic cell death.

Albeck JG, Burke JM, Spencer SL, Lauffenburger DA, Sorger PK.

PLoS Biol. 2008 Dec 2;6(12):2831-52. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060299. PMID: 19053173 Free PMC Article