Shunqiang Li, PhD

Dr. Shunqiang Li is a research investigator with a particular expertise in the establishment of patient-derived tumor xenograft models and the testing of pre-clinical anticancer agents. Breast cancer is a complex disease comprised of a spectrum of cancer subtypes with distinct clinical phenotypes, genetic anomalies, and therapeutic responsiveness. Preclinical testing of new anticancer drugs requires model systems that recapitulate the breast cancer spectrum as accurately as possible. While cell-line derived human breast xenografts are frequently used for this purpose; the ability of these models to predict drug efficacy is limited due to the changes caused by long-term in vitro culture, the lack of the source patient’s clinical information, and their poor representation of the complexity present in breast cancer. In collaboration with Dr. Matthew Ellis, Dr. Shunqiang Li launched the HAMLET (Human and Mouse Linked Evaluation of Tumors) project in 2006 to establish patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models using breast cancer tissue and to compare the similarities between the original tumors and their xenografts. The goals of this project are to (1) use WHIM (Washington University Human in Mouse) tumor models to bridge the knowledge gap between breast cancer genome structure and function; (2) test the anti-cancer efficacy of new drugs; and (3) apply WHIM tumor models to personalized cancer therapy.

Dr. Li, as Research instructor for Medicine and Co-director of the HAMLET Core, is responsible for (1) the day to day operations of the Core; (2) assisting investigators in evaluating the potential utility of WHIM models to their research; and (3) effectively incorporating WHIM models in collaborators’ projects. With major financial help from the Susan G. Komen Foundation (grants BCTR0707808 and KG090422), Dr. Li has established over forty WHIM tumor models by engrafting patient breast cancer tissue into the mammary fat pads of NOD/SCID mice. The WHIM tumor models have been characterized by (1) global gene expression; (2) array CGH; and (3) in some cases, whole genome sequencing and reverse phase protein array (RPPA). Some ER-positive WHIM models have been tested for response to estrogen stimulation. The WHIM models exhibit remarkable genetic and phenotypic similarities with the human tumor from which they were derived [featured in the Nature publication].  In essence, they are “live” replicas of the human tumors. WHIM tumor-related materials have been disseminated to over thirty investigators for use in translational research. The models have been successfully incorporated in multiple investigators’ funded projects, including:

  • The Cancer Proteomics Centers at Washington University in St. Louis; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Boise State University (Matthew Ellis, et al; NIH grant 5U24A160035, $1,623,917);
  • Personalized Breast Cancer Vaccines Based on Genome Sequencing (William Gillanders, et al; Susan G Komen for the Cure, promise grant KG111025, $6,500,000);
  • Cell Death Activation to Prevent Late Relapse in Breast Cancer (Matthew Ellis et al; Susan G Komen for the Cure, promise grant PG12220321, $4,072,931.10);
  • Chk1- and PI3K- Pathways as Therapeutic Targets in Triple Negative Breast Cancers (Helen Piwnica-Worms; Susan G Komen for the Cure, grant KG081551, $600,000)

In collaboration with Dr. B. Van Tine, Dr. Li has recently established a similar project using patient derived sarcoma tissues.