About the PI
I am an Assistant Professor of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh and member of Tumor Microenvironment Center at Hillman Cancer Center. My research focuses on the mechanisms that control cell death and how the quality of cell death can modulate the immune response, especially anti-tumor immunity. I have actively pursued research in cell death and immunology for fifteen years, at Beijing Normal University and National Institute of Biological Sciences, Beijing, China as a graduate student (2006-2013), St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a postdoc (2013-2018) and the University of Pittsburgh as principal investigator (2018-).
My work has initially focused on apoptosis/apoptosome and pyroptosis/inflammasome activation in macrophages, monocytes, and dendritic cells in Dr. Feng Shao’s laboratory. I have identified bromoxone as a pan-inflammasome inhibitor and revealed mechanisms of inflammasome action against bacterial pathogen infection. Furthermore, after joining Dr. Douglas R. Green’s laboratory as a postdoc, I continued working on the programmed cell death, mainly necroptosis. In Green lab, I discovered the role of ESCRT- III in necroptosis and its immune responses. ESCRT-III machinery can rescue the necroptotic cells via shedding and repairing broken plasma membrane, thus, sustain cell survival. As a consequence, cells undergoing necroptosis can express chemokines and other regulatory molecules to promote dendritic cell-mediated cross-priming of CD8+ T cells. In collaboration with clinical investigators, I revealed ESCRT-III keeps cells from lysis, especially in kidneys from the transplantation procedures.
After becoming an independent researcher, I continue to work on the mechanisms of programmed cell death and its role in regulating immune responses, including auto-immunity and cancer immunology. We keep exploring novel signaling pathways of programmed cell death. We are also focusing on new drug target discoveries in the cell death pathway. Our goal is to use these targets to overcome the tumor cell death resistance upon chemotherapies. We are also deciphering the central roles of various types of programmed cell death in anti-tumor immunity, auto-immune diseases, and transplantation. We will reprogram cell death to modulate the immune response. Due to the excellence of my research program, I was awarded with NIH Director’s New Innovator Award in 2021.