Liling Wan

2019 Regional Award Finalist — Post-Doc

Liling Wan

Current Position:
Postdoctoral Fellow

The Rockefeller University (Joining University of Pennsylvania Faculty as Assistant Professor in January 2020)

Molecular & Cellular Biology

Recognized for: identifying a previously unknown function of a protein called ENL, which has the ability to read epigenetic information on our chromosomes and activate genes that perpetuate tumor growth. Elucidating the structure and mechanism of ENL has guided ongoing development of drugs to treat cancers.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Cancer biology, Chromatin biology, Epigenetics, Gene regulation, Cancer Therapy


2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards Honorees in Life Sciences

Previous Positions:

PhD, Princeton University
BS, Tsinghua University, China

Research Summary:

Dr. Wan is a molecular biologist who has made innovative discoveries about the molecular underpinnings of cancer, and how to harness these basic discoveries to develop novel cancer therapies. The behavior of a cell is largely dictated by what genes it expresses, and abnormal gene expression underlies many human diseases, such as cancer. Dr. Wan’s research on cancer focuses on the field of epigenetics—the study of heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve changes to our DNA sequence. While epigenetic mechanisms are known to be involved in cancer, it remains poorly understood how cancer cells hijack these mechanisms to disrupt normal cell function and fuel the initiation and growth of tumors. Dr. Wan’s groundbreaking research identified a novel epigenetic “reader” called ENL, which acts to interpret epigenetic information in our cells and impact the expression of cancer-related genes. Dr. Wan discovered that leukemia cells rely on the presence of ENL for uncontrolled proliferation, and that disrupting the function of ENL can suppress tumor development. The elucidation of the mechanism and structure of the ENL protein is helping with ongoing drug development. These drugs aim to interfere with ENL’s ability to regulate epigenetic function, and thereby halt the development of aggressive leukemia.

“Errors in epigenetic regulation are rampant in human cancer. I hope that through better understanding of how cancer cells hijack epigenetic mechanisms to perpetuate their growth, we can come up with new ways to reset the cellular program in cancer cells, and to guide the development of more effective therapies.”

Key Publications:

  1. L. Wan, H. Wen, Y. Li, J. Lyu, Y. Xi, T. Hoshii, J.K. Joseph, X. Wang, Y.E. Loh, M.A. Erb, A.L. Souza, J.E. Bradner, L. Shen, W. Li, H. Li, C.D. Allis, S.A. Armstrong, X. Shi. ENL Links Histone Acetylation to Oncogenic Gene Activation in Leukemias. Nature, 2017.
  2. L. Wan, X. Lu, S. Yuan, Y. Wei, F. Guo, M. Shen, M. Yuan, R. Chakrabart, Y. Hua, H.A. Smith, M.A. Blanco, M. Chekmareva, H. Wu, R.T. Bronson, B.G. Haffty, Y. Xing, Y. Kang. MTDH-SND1 Interaction Is Crucial for Expansion and Activity of Tumor-Initiating Cells in Diverse Oncogene- and Carcinogen-Induced Mammary Tumors. Cancer Cell, 2014.
  3. L. Wan, S. Chong, X. Fan, A. Liang, X. Cui, L. Gates, T.S. Carroll, Y. Li, L. Feng, G. Chen, S. Wang, M.V. Ortiz, S. Daley, X. Wang, H. Xuan, A. Kentsis, T.W. Muir, R.G.Roeder, H. Li, W. Li, R. Tijian, H. Wen, C.D. Allis.  Impaired Cell Fate by Gain-of-function Mutations in a Chromatin Reader. Nature 2019.
  4. Wan L, Pantel K, Kang Y. Tumor Metastasis: Moving New Biological Insights into the Clinic. Nature Medicine, 2013.

Other Honors:

2018-present NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00), National Institute of Health
2015-2018 Postdoctoral Fellowship, Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund
2013 Gallo Award for Outstanding Cancer Research, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
2012-2013 Charlotte Elizabeth Procter Honorific Fellowship, Princeton University

In the Media:

Nature NewsReading the Future of Leukaemia

Nature Reviews Cancer NewsAddicted to reading

Rockefeller NewsA New Way to Reset Gene Expression in Cancer Cells Shows Promise for Leukemia Treatment

Science DailyDiabolical Duo: Known Breast Cancer Gene Needs Partner to Initiate, Spread Tumors