My lab is interested in understanding the signaling networks that operate in stem cell regulation during tissue homeostasis and regeneration, and in various diseases including cancers. We are particularly interested in signaling pathways that play important roles during embryonic patterning because these pathways have increasingly been recognized for their post-embryonic roles in the maintenance of tissue integrity and tumor initiation and growth, and seem to exert their post-embryonic effects through the regulation of tissue stem cell physiology. We address questions such as how stem cells mediate the repair of injured tissues, what is the role of developmental signaling pathways in stem cell-mediated tissue regeneration, and how dysregulation of these pathways and stem cell activity lead to the development of diseases including cancer.
Our current research focuses on Hedgehog (Hh) signaling, an important developmental pathway involved in embryonic patterning, and its role in tissue maintenance/regeneration and cancers of various organs. Our recent findings and a survey of various epithelial tissues suggest that in many endoderm-derived epithelial tissues, the Hh pathway acts in a non- cell-autonomous way where Hh response only occurs in stromal cells, or the tumor microenvironment in a tumor setting, to indirectly affect the behavior of epithelial stem cells or cancer cells. The major focus of current research in my lab is to understand how Hh signaling and its interaction with other developmental pathways, especially pathway interaction between stem cells and their microenvironment, control the physiology of stem cells during regeneration, and how dysregulation of these pathways plays a role in various pathological conditions in endoderm-derived epithelial tissues.