October 6, 2023

Announcing three new project awards, seminar series focused on cancer

Lymph node metastasis; cellular lineage plasticity in treatment resistance; early liver metastasis.

Three newly awarded projects for 2023 focus on various aspects of cancer research and are part of recent efforts by the Joint Institute to prioritize specific research areas for collaborations. Last year’s request for proposals targeted data science, neuroscience, and reproductive health. This year’s call focused exclusively on cancer.

“I am grateful to my colleagues in Ann Arbor and to our friends at Peking University who have embraced this partnership. I believe these three projects represent exciting possibilities, not only for meaningful research but also for future collaborations between our institutions,” said Max Wicha, the Madeline and Sidney Forbes Professor of Oncology, who has been leading the JI’s cancer research group for Michigan Medicine.

Accompanying the new awards will be a seminar series for the 2023-24 academic year specifically focused on cancer. Sessions kicked off in October and will continue each month highlighting each of the three new projects and exploring future collaborations.

Congratulations to the award recipients.

Evaluating Lymphangiogenic Potentiation In Cancer Immunotherapy
Weiping Zou, MD, PhD (Michigan Medicine)
Chao Zhong, PhD (PKUHSC)

While lymph nodes often play a critical role in the body's defense against cancer, tumors often spread through these lymph nodes. This project aims to better understand this paradox by studying how lymph node metastasis impacts the immune system's response to cancer treatment, specifically focusing on patients with breast cancer, melanoma, and colorectal cancer.


Clarifying mechanisms of lineage plasticity in prostate and breast cancers
Joshi Alumkal, PhD (Michigan Medicine)
Hongquan Zhang, PhD (PKUHSC)

Cellular lineage plasticity, wherein cells spontaneously shift their identity and function, can render cancer treatments less effective. It becoming more common in prostate and breast cancers. This study will explore lineage plasticity at the molecular level to identify the mechanisms and improve treatments. A seminar session will be held on Nov. 21, 2023.


Mechanisms of liver metastasis from pancreatic cancer: crosstalk between tumor cells and hepatic stellate cells
Jiaqi Shi, MD, PhD (Michigan Medicine)
Yinmo Yang, MD (PKUHSC)

Early liver metastasis is a major driver of pancreatic cancer, which has a very low 5-year survival rate. This project aims to use advanced technologies to uncover the molecular mechanisms behind early liver metastasis, potentially leading to better ways to diagnose and treat the disease. A seminar session will be held on Dec. 19, 2023.