Tell us a little about yourself:

I was born and grew up in a small city on the east coast of Shandong province, China. As an undergraduate, I attended Yuanpei College of Peking University and majored in the biological sciences. After graduating in 2019, I came to UChicago.

What motivated you to pursue a PhD in cancer biology

When I was in college, I spent three years working as a part-time research assistant in a lab studying leukemia—the very first page of my story with cancer biology. My project required a large number of patient samples, so I often visited physicians and patients in local hospitals. Every time I saw patients suffering severe pain brought on by malignancy, I felt motivated to work harder to become a mature scientist in order to help them. Also, there are still so many unsolved questions in cancer biology to be explored, which is intriguing to me. Cancer biology perfectly shows how science explores the edge of human knowledge and helps to treat diseases at the same time—that’s why I chose to pursue a PhD in cancer biology.

What are you working on now?

I am now working in Dr. Lixing Yang’s lab, on a project to look for novel cancer drivers in cancer genomes. Cancer is caused by the accumulation of different mutations in our genomes. Over decades, scientists have identified lots of cancer driver genes in different types of cancers. However, this is far from enough for us to understand cancer genomes. In recent years, with the development of advanced sequencing technologies, scientists have more and more genetic data on tumor samples. This data remains to be analyzed more deeply—in comparison with matched normal tissues—for us to learn more about what mutations are associated with cancers. To dig into the genetic information, we use some algorithms to find the candidate mutations, and validate them with experimental methods. If our candidates are validated as cancer drivers, we can study their functions and the mechanisms of how they promote cancer development. This can provide possible novel targets for cancer treatment and help achieve precise and individualized treatment for different patients.