April Risinger




April Risinger, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Greehey Distinguished Chair in Targeted Molecular Therapeutics

Personal Statement:

The research in the Risinger Laboratory is in the area of cancer pharmacology with a focus on microtubule targeted agents and other natural products for the treatment of drug resistant solid tumors. There are three overarching goals of our research, including the identification of biomarkers that can guide a more rational choice among clinically approved microtubule targeted agents for the treatment of women with breast cancer or gynecological malignancies, the development of novel classes of microtubule targeted agents that retain efficacy in drug-resistant disease, and identifying strategies to alleviate the toxicities associated with the use of microtubule-targeted agents and other chemotherapeutics.

Drug Discovery and Development

Each of the unique classes of microtubule-targeted chemotherapeutics currently in clinical use or preclinical evaluation was originally identified as a natural product. Therefore, we collaborate closely with natural product chemists to identify and characterize novel natural compounds for their potential as cancer therapeutics as well as with synthetic medicinal chemists to optimize their potential for translation into the clinic. This includes our long-standing work on the identification and optimization of covalent microtubule targeted agents, including the plant-derived taccalonolides. My laboratory found that the taccalonolides bind covalently to a distinct site on tubulin from other stabilizers with a high degree of specificity that allows them to retain efficacy in clinically relevant drug resistant models both in vitro and in vivo. I am an inventor on two issued patents on this class of microtubule stabilizers and we have active projects in the laboratory focused on optimizing their pharmacokinetic properties and improving tumor targeting. We are also actively working on the optimization of other covalent microtubule targeted natural products, including pironetin and zampanolide, for the treatment of drug resistant human cancers. 

Improving the Targeted use of Approved Chemotherapeutics

In addition to identifying new therapeutics, my laboratory is also actively investigating the underappreciated mechanistic differences between microtubule targeted agents currently approved for the treatment of cancer to guide their more rational and targeted use in the clinic. We have identified that the microtubule destabilizer eribulin is unique from the microtubule stabilizing taxanes in its ability to acutely activate the cGAS-STING pathway independent of its antimitotic effects through a mechanism involving mitochondrial DNA release. We further found that eribulin is highly synergistic with STING agonists in clinical development and able to promote improved antitumor immunity and tumor regression in vivo. We are also uncovering differences between the effects of these clinically approved drugs on cytoskeletal mediators implicated in oncogenesis. These preclinical findings have led to collaborations with our Mays Cancer Center to test the hypothesis that our findings can be used to identify molecular biomarkers to support the rational use of these drugs in combination with immunotherapeutics as well as guide the choice between microtubule stabilizing and destabilizing chemotherapeutics in the treatment of breast cancer patients where both classes of agents are approved and currently used with no molecular guidance.

Improving treatment by alleviating toxic side effects

Some of the major hurdles to effective cancer treatment are the toxic side effects associated with microtubule targeted agents and other chemotherapeutics. I am actively collaborating with neuroscientists and pain researchers to characterize and alleviate the neuropathic and cognitive deficits associated with cancer therapy. These collaborations have led to the development of models that allow monitoring of both the neurological and antitumor activities of chemotherapeutics in the same animal so that we can identify interventions that mitigate the deleterious side effects of these drugs without compromising their anticancer efficacy.


BS Biochemistry, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
PhD Cellular Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA


• drug discovery • cancer
• natural products • microtubule targeted agents
• taccalonolides  

Awards & Accomplishments

Select Honors and Awards

2000   Best Undergraduate Thesis in Molecular Genetics, Texas A&M University

2012    Barbara Bowman Postdoctoral Award and Fellowship

2017    Voelcker Young Investigator Award

2022    Jack L. Beal Award for best paper by an earlier career investigator in the
             Journal of Natural Products





2008-present          Member, Mays Cancer Center, UT Health San Antonio

2014-2018               Assistant Professor/Research Track, UT Health San Antonio

2018-2022               Assistant Professor/Tenure Track, UT Health San Antonio

2022-present          Associate Professor with Tenure, UT Health San Antonio


Select Boards, Committees and Memberships

2017-2020               Scientific Advisory Board, Terrona LLC, San Antonio, TX

2019-present          Physiology and Pharmacology Discipline Graduate Student Oversight Committee

2021-present          Mays Cancer Center Shared Resource Committee

2022-present          Center for Innovative Drug Discovery Steering Committee

2022                         VPR Task Force for Women in Science

2022-present          Physiology and Pharmacology Graduate Student Recruitment Committee

2022-present          Standing Member, DMP Study Section, NIH

Lab Members


Leila Takahashi-Ruiz
IBMS Graduate Student




Jacob Essif
IBMS Graduate Student





Nancy Wilkinson
Research Assistant





Past Lab Members

Samantha Yee, Ph.D.
IMBS Graduate Student 2017 – 2022
Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow in the Lengyel Laboratory at U Chicago




Charles S. Fermaintt Charles Fermaintt, Ph.D.
IRACDA Postdoctoral Fellow 2018 – 2022
Current Position: Assistant Professor, University of the Incarnate Word





Complete NCBI Bibliography


Selected Publications

Takahashi-Ruiz L, Morris JD, Crews P, Johnson TA, Risinger AL. In Vivo Evaluation of (-)-Zampanolide Demonstrates Potent and Persistent Antitumor Efficacy When Targeted to the Tumor Site. Molecules 27(13):4244. 2022.

Yee SS, Risinger AL. Efficacy of a covalent microtubule stabilizer in taxane-resistant ovarian cancer models. Molecules 26(13):4077. 2021

Fermaintt CS, Takahashi-Ruiz L, Liang H, Mooberry SL, Risinger AL. Eribulin activates the cGAS-STING pathway via the cytoplasmic accumulation of mtDNA. Molecular Pharmacology doi:10.1124/molpharm.121.000297. 2021

Risinger AL, Hastings S, Du L. Taccalonolide C-6 analogues, including paclitaxel hybrids, demonstrate improved microtubule polymerizing activities. The Journal of Natural Products 84(6):1799-1805. 2021. *Paper selected for the Jack L. Beal Award from the American Society of Pharmacognosy

Fermaintt CS, Peramuna T, Cai S, Takahashi-Ruiz L, Essif JN, Grant CV, O’Keefe BR, Mooberry SL, Cichewicz RH, Risinger AL. Yuanhuacine is a potent and selective inhibitor of the basal-like 2 subtype of triple negative breast cancer with immunogenic potential. Cancers 13(11):2834. 2021.

Matthew S, Chen QY, Ratnayake R, Fermaintt CS, Lucena-Agell D, Bonato F, Prota AE, Lim ST, Wang X, Díaz JF, Risinger AL, Paul VJ, Oliva MÁ, Luesch H. Gatorbulin-1, a distinct cyclodepsipeptide chemotype, targets a seventh tubulin pharmacological site. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS) 118(9): e2021847118. 2021.

Du L, Yee SS, Ramachandran K, Risinger AL. Elucidating target specificity of the taccalonolide covalent microtubule stabilizers employing a combinatorial chemical approach. Nature Communications 11(1):654. 2020.

Clanton NA, Hastings SD, Foultz GB, Contreras JA, Yee SS, Arman HD, Risinger AL, Frantz DE. Synthesis and biological evaluations of electrophilic steroids inspired by the taccalonolides. ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters 11(12):2534-2543. 2020.

Sharp AM, Lertphinyowong S, Yee SS, Paredes D, Gelfond J, Johnson-Pais TL, Leach RJ, Liss M, Risinger AL, Sullivan AC, Thompson IM, Morilak DA. Vortioxetine reverses medial prefrontal cortex-mediated cognitive deficits in male rats induced by castration as a model of androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer. Psychopharmacology 236(11):3183-3195. 2019.

LoCoco PM, Risinger AL, Smith HR, Chavera TS, Berg KA, Clarke WP. Pharmacological augmentation of nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT) protects against paclitaxel-induced peripheral neuropathy. eLife 10(6): E29626. 2017.

Du L, Risinger AL, Mitchell CA, You J, Stamps BW, Pan N, King JB, Bopassa JC, Judge SIV, Yang Z, Stevenson BS, Cichewicz RH. Unique amalgamation of primary and secondary structural elements transform peptaibols into potent bioactive cell-penetrating peptides. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS) 114(43):E8957-E8966. 2017.