Life in the Institute: Wenyue Liu

In the Wu lab in CRI, postdoctoral fellow Wenyue Liu, Ph.D., is working to understand the cancer-promoting functions of extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA). Deciphering the functions of ecDNA will help scientists develop novel therapeutic strategies to treat ecDNA-driven cancers.

What are you researching?

I am studying the molecular function of ecDNA and how ecDNA is maintained in cancer. In humans, genes are organized on 23 pairs of chromosomes, but Dr. Sihan Wu discovered that many cancer-causing genes, known as oncogenes, can “jump off” the chromosomes to form circular pieces of ecDNAs in cancer cells. These genes can be highly amplified (even more than 100 times) and are present in the most malignant cancer types, including brain, breast, and lung cancers. The ultimate goal of my work is to understand the universal mechanism of ecDNA maintenance in different types of aggressive cancers. I hope to take advantage of these insights to develop therapeutic strategies that will be beneficial for cancers driven by ecDNA and will target oncogenes that are currently undruggable.

How did you become interested in your field?

During my graduate work, I became interested in cancer research because my Ph.D. research topic was in microtubule biology, which has a close connection with cancer biology. For example, microtubule-targeting drugs such as paclitaxel and nocodazole have been used clinically to treat patients with certain types of cancer, and some microtubule-associated proteins play important roles in cancer development. Ultimately, I chose ecDNA as my research focus because it is an emerging and exciting field in cancer biology. ecDNA is prevalent in human cancer, yet our knowledge of ecDNA is still limited.

How did you end up in CRI?

I was very interested in the research directions of Sihan Wu’s lab, and during my contact with him, I felt he was kind and supportive and that we shared the same philosophy on science and life. During this process, I also learned more about CRI and could see it is a young but vibrant institute that has an atmosphere of innovation, collaboration, and inclusivity.

How do you spend your free time?

During my free time, I enjoy running or playing basketball. More often than not, I spend my time with my son, who is two and a half years old and loves exploring the world. My wife and I enjoy being outdoors with him or visiting places like the zoo to let him learn new things.

What’s your favorite spot in CRI?

My favorite spot in CRI is the lounge area at the north end of the lab. You can get a great view of the Dallas skyline, and on the days I stay later, I sometimes see the sunset glow, which is a beautiful sight.