Research

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a family of small non-coding RNAs, and each miRNA can regulate the expression of hundreds of gene targets. By broadly controlling the functions of thousands of genes, miRNAs play important regulatory roles in almost all known molecular pathways. Our main research interests include: computational and experimental identification of miRNA targets; development of bioinformatics tools for miRNA and gene expression research; identification of miRNA-related biomarkers for human cancers; functional characterization of miRNA in cancer development and progression; and development of miRNA therapeutics for human cancers.

We have developed multiple bioinformatics tools and experimental methods to facilitate miRNA studies. For example, we have developed an online database, miRDB for miRNA target prediction and functional analysis. miRDB has quickly become a widely-used bioinformatics tool for miRNA research and has been referenced by thousands of publications. Besides tools related to miRNA, our lab has also developed other popular bioinformatics tools for gene expression studies. Several prominent examples are: 1) PrimerBank database for real-time PCR studies, which has been referenced by thousands of publications; 2) siOligo program for siRNA design. siOligo is currently used by Life Technologies to design their siRNA products, which have been distributed to hundreds of labs throughout the world; 3) WU-CRISPR, a recently developed tool for the design of CRISPR/Cas9 assays.

Our lab is also very interested in translational cancer research. We have identified prognostic biomarkers to stratify patients based on the risk of failure to standard therapies. The lab has performed gene expression profiling studies and established multiple miRNA-based prognostic models for robust prediction of a variety of human cancers. In particular, we have focused on cervical and oropharyngeal cancers, both of which are closely associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Besides miRNA biomarkers, we have also functionally characterized the interactions between miRNA and HPV during the development of HPV-induced cancers. We are currently collaborating with Radiation Oncologists to validate the clinical utility of the identified prognostic biomarkers to guide treatment decisions.