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Faculty and Staff Directory

Weimin Li, MD, PhD

Associate Professor
Department of Translational Medicine and Physiology

Affiliate Faculty

  • College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Education and Training

  • MSc in Medical Molecular Genetics, University of Aberdeen, UK
  • MD specialized in Oncology, Shandong, China
  • PhD in Biochemistry, University of Basel, Switzerland
  • Postdoctoral Training: National Cancer Institute/NIH & University of Wisconsin-Madison


Dr. Li’s primary research focuses on studying the mechanisms and control of breast cancer progression using native tissue matrix 3D cultures,  tumor avatars, animal models, and clinical samples.

Tumor microenvironment (TME) modeling: Native cancer cells within a tumor live in extracellular matrix (ECM), which also harbors tumor-associated stromal cells, immune cells, blood vessels, and biomolecules. This heterogeneous TME, different from the normal tissue space, is progressively modified at structural and biochemical levels by the symbiotic cancer cells and stromal cells. A native TME is essential for the signal-sensitive cellular functions of the residential cancer or stromal cells, which express distinct biomolecules and phenotypes that would otherwise be difficult to be observed in biologically irrelevant cultures. We use animal or human native tissue-derived ECM matrices to engineer TME, study TME and cancer/stromal/immune cell interactions, and dissect the molecular mechanisms regulating cancer progression.

Cancer risk biomarkers and progression control: Defining reliable biomarkers and novel therapeutic targets is key for cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. An ongoing effort of our team is to identify biomarkers for better stratification of breast cancer risks. This involves our close collaborations with oncologists and pathologists, and is important for clinical care and precision medicine. Another emphasis of our current research is to define and validate biomolecules mediating breast cancer progression as therapeutic targets for better outcomes of cancer patients.

Selected Publications

Keller CR, Hu Y, Ruud KF, VanDeen AE, Martinez SR, Kahn BT, Zhang Z, Chen RK, Li W. Human breast extracellular matrix microstructures and protein hydrogel 3D cultures of mammary epithelial cells. Cancers. 2021 Nov 22;13(22):5857. doi: 10.3390/cancers13225857.

Ruud KF, Hiscox WC, Yu I, Chen RK, and Li W. Distinct phenotypes of cancer cells on tissue matrix gel. Breast Cancer Res. 2020 Jul 31; 22:82. doi:10.1186/s13058-020-01321-7

Shinsato Y, Doyle AD, Li W, Yamada KM.Direct comparison of five different 3D extracellular matrix model systems for characterization of cancer cell migration. Cancer Reports. 2020 June 8; doi: 10.1002/cnr2.1257.

Rijal G, Wang J, Yu I, Gang DR, Chen RK, Li W. Porcine Breast Extracellular Matrix Hydrogel for Spatial Tissue Culture. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Sep 25; 19(10). pii: E2912. doi: 10.3390/ijms19102912

Rijal G and Li W. Native-mimicking in vitro microenvironment: an elusive and seductive future for tumor modeling and tissue engineering. J Biol Eng. 2018 Sep 12; 12:20. doi: 10.1186/s13036-018-0114-7

Rijal G, Bathula C, and Li W. Application of synthetic polymeric scaffolds in breast cancer 3D tissue cultures and animal tumor models. Int J Biomater. 2017 December; 2017:1-9. doi: 10.1155/2017/8074890

Rijal G and Li W. A versatile 3D tissue matrix scaffold system for tumor modeling and drug screening. Sci. Adv. 2017 Sep 13;3, e1700764. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1700764

Li W*, Li W, Laishram RS, Hoque M, Ji Z, Tian B*, Anderson RA*. Distinct regulation of alternative polyadenylation and gene expression by nuclear poly(A) polymerases. Nucleic Acids Res. 2017 June 27; 45(12). doi: 10.1093/nar/gkx560

Rijal G and Li W. 3D scaffolds in breast cancer research. Biomaterials. 2016 March; 81:135-156. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials

Davis WJ, Lehmann PZ and Li W. Nuclear PI3K signaling in cell growth and tumorigenesis. Front. Cell Dev. Biol. 2015 Apr 13; 3:24. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2015.00024

Li W and Anderson RA. Star-PAP mediates HPV E6 regulation of p53 and sensitizes cells to VP-16. Oncogene. 2014 Feb 13; 33(7):928-32. doi: 10.1038/onc.2013.14

Ray D, Kazan H, Cook KB, Weirauch MT, Najafabadi HS, Li X, Gueroussov S, Albu M, Zheng H, Yang A, Na H, Irimia M, Matzat LH, Dale RK, Smith SA, Yarosh CA, Kelly SM, Nabet B, Mecenas D, Li W, Laishram RS, Qiao M, Lipshitz HD, Piano F, Corbett AH, Carstens RP, Frey BJ, Anderson RA, Lynch KW, Penalva LO, Lei EP, Fraser AG, Blencowe BJ, Morris QD, Hughes TR. A compendium of RNA-binding motifs for decoding gene regulation. Nature. 2013 Jul 11; 499(7457):172-7. doi: 10.1038/nature12311

Li W, Laishram RS, and Anderson RA. The novel poly(A) polymerase Star-PAP is a signaling-regulated switch at the mRNA 3’-end during stress response. Advances in Biological Regulation. 2013 Jan; 53(1):64-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jbior.2012.10.004

Li W, Laishram RS, Ji Z, Barlow C, Tian B, and Anderson RA. Star-PAP Control of BIK Expression and Apoptosis is Regulated by Nuclear PIPKIa and PKCd Signaling. Molecular Cell. 2012 Jan 13; 45(1):25-37. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2011.11.017.

Li W, Kotoshiba S, Berthet C, Hilton MB, Kaldis P. Rb/Cdk2/Cdk4 triple mutant mice elicit an alternative mechanism for regulation of the G1/S transition. PNAS. 2009 Jan 13; 106(2):486-91. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0804177106

Li W, Kotoshiba S, Kaldis P. Genetic mouse models to investigate cell cycle regulation. Transgenic Res. 2009 Aug; 18(4):491-8. doi: 10.1007/s11248-009-9276-x

Li W, Petrimpol M, Molle KD, Hall MN, Battegay EJ, Humar R. Hypoxia-induced endothelial proliferation requires both mTORC1 and mTORC2. Circ Res. 2007 Jan 5; 100(1):79-87

A complete list of published works can be found here.

Weimin Li, MD, PhD
Associate Professor