The Li Group
The research in our lab is highly multi-disciplinary and often involves collaboration with other labs. Currently research in our group broadly focuses on the following three areas:
- Discovery of novel therapeutic agent for melanoma.
Melanoma is the most deadly skin cancer and its incidents are rising rapidly in the world. While early stage melanoma can be cured by surgical removal, once metastasized, it is very difficult to treat and the median survival is only a few months. Working with Dr. Duane Miller in our department, our group aims to design and synthesize novel small molecules inhibiting certain validated drug targets. One of the targets is the colchicine binding site in tubulin. Tubulin is a well validated target with at least three distinct binding sites for drugs to interact: the paclitaxel binding site (e.g., Taxol, epothilones), the vinblastine binding sites (e.g., Vinblastine, Vincristine), and the colchicine binding site. Techniques used in our lab include molecular modeling, organic synthesis, in vitro and in vivo biological assay, and nanotechnology based drug delivery approaches by incorporating certain peptides to target receptors that are over expressed by cancer cells, in order to reduce potential toxicity associated with systematic drug administrations. Computer aided drug screening and design are heavily used in this area of research.
- Discovery of novel vitamin D analogs as potential therapeutic agents.
The importance of sufficient vitamin D (such as Calciferol) in human bodies has been well recognized. Vitamin D have broad benefits to human health, including bone formation, cancer prevention, and anti-inflammation effects. However, the use of existing vitamin Ds and their analogs suffer from a severe side effect called hypercalcemia (elevated levels of calcium in blood stream) which could result in calcification of soft tissues, organ failure or even death. Working with Dr. Slominski, Dr. Miller and other researchers, we are identifying new biologically active metabolites of vitamin D and chemically synthesize them.
- Application of NMR spectroscopy in drug discovery studies.
This area of research mainly focused on using high resolution magic angle spinning NMR (HR MAS NMR) to study metabolic changes in intact cells or cell extractions and to characterize chemically modified nanoparticles. We have active collaborations on a variety of projects.