Wei Li

PIBBS MENTOR
Professor
Director of GMCB (Genetics, Molecular and Cell Biology) Graduate Program
Director of Wound Healing and Skin Cancer Program

Department of Dermatology
USC-Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

Research Topics

  • Identification of Novel Drug Targets for Wound Healing and Tissue Repair
  • Identification of Novel Drug Targets in Triple Negative Breast Cancer
  • Role of the Secreted From of Heat Shock Protein-90 (Hsp90) in Wound Healing and Cancer
  • Mechanisms of Signal Transduction in Wound Healing and Cancer Progression

Research Images

Research Overview

Dr. Li's research targets two clinical problems 1) Wound Healing and 2) Tumor Progression. Wound healing is a physiological repair process by inflammatory, epithelial, fibroblastic and endothelial cells that is only activated in response to injury or a surgeon’s knife. Tumor progression is a similar process by a similar group of cells (called tumor stroma cells) in response to “injury” that is caused by invading tumor cells. Wound healing usually has a beginning and an ending, whereas tumor has a beginning but often an open ending (patient death) if left untreated. Therefore, tumors have been called “"wounds that do not heal”" (The New England Journal of Medicine, 315:1650-1659). This is how his laboratory discovered that the “SECRETED form of heat shock protein-90alpha” (eHsp90a) plays an important role in both wound healing and tumor progression. Understanding the mechanism of action by eHsp90a and targeting eHsp90a (not the intracellular chaperone Hsp90) as a new protein therapy (for wound healing) and for therapeutic inhibitors (against tumors) are the two main focus in Dr. Li's laboratory. These studies have generated two patents, one of which has entered industrial phase for drug development.

Current ongoing projects
- The critical amino acids in eHsp90 to promote wound healing
and tumor invasion
- The secreted Hsp90-LRP-1 receptor signaling mechanisms
- Development of topical recombinant Hsp90 protein for treatment of diabetic foot ulcers
- Developing monoclonal antibody drugs against Hsp90-secreting breast cancer
- Mechanism of Hsp90 secretion in normal and tumor cells