My research focuses on the genetic basis and developmental mechanisms of congenital structural anomalies, particularly craniofacial developmental disorders, including cleft lip, cleft palate, frontonasal dysplasia, midfacial hypoplasia, micrognathia and missing or supernumerary teeth. We work to understand the causes and developmental mechanisms of congenital defects to improve diagnosis, treatment and patient care.
I majored in biology in college and actively conducted undergraduate research. I was fascinated by the processes of cell differentiation and received a master's degree in Genetics from the Chinese Academy of Science. Then I came to the United States for doctorate training in developmental biology.
Although my research projects during graduate and postdoctoral training mostly focused on uncovering basic cellular and molecular mechanisms of embryonic development, the results had clear applications in understanding pathogenic mechanisms of human developmental disorders. I decided to pursue an independent academic research career focused on understanding the genetic basis and developmental mechanisms of major structural birth defects.
More than 3 percent of children are born with developmental defects. Many of these children have defects in craniofacial structures that require surgical treatment shortly after birth. The causes and pathogenic mechanisms of most craniofacial congenital anomalies are not well understood. Our research aims to gain a comprehensive understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of craniofacial development and provide solid scientific knowledge for the development and improvement of strategies for diagnosis, treatment and clinical care of children with such developmental disorders.
Some of my lab’s groundbreaking work include:
- First to demonstrate that the embryonic periderm forms a protective cover that prevents aberrant epithelial adhesions underlying major structural birth defects such as cleft palate
- Identified the mammalian Odd-skipped-related transcription factors and demonstrated that this family of transcription factors are key regulators of craniofacial, heart and kidney organogenesis
- Uncovered the genetic regulatory mechanism patterning the mammalian teeth into a single row
- Found extensive networks of signaling molecules and transcription factors controlling palate development
- Discovered the molecular mechanism patterning the oral-aboral axis of the mammalian jaw
I am honored to have received many awards and appointments during my career, including:
- The March of Dimes Birth Defect Foundation Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar (2000 - 2002)
- Editorial Board of Journal of Dental Research (2003 - 2005)
- Editorial Board of Developmental Biology (2011 - present)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research Board of Scientific Counselors (2011 - 2016)
- International Association for Dental Research Distinguished Scientist Award (2015)
I have been a researcher for more than 26 years and began working at Cincinnati Children's in 2011.