Officially, I am an active researcher, mentor and inventor who has evolved through several areas of specialization since my research career began in 1996, with my first post-doctoral appointment in Molecular Biology at Nankai University in Tianjin, China. My training in public health has led me to focus concern on human diseases, especially immunologic and neurodegenerative diseases. These interests have eventually helped me to find my way to Tampa in 1998 to serve as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of South Florida (USF), first working in the area of cancer biology, and then moving into the areas of microbiology and immunology.
Initially, I participated on various research teams studying a novel human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1 neutralizable epitope and expression of a type of protein from dental cariogenic Streptococcus mutans, publishing on these topics in 2000. While working in the HIV space, I helped to identify the function of a novel anti-HIV antibody, and developed new antibody isolation methods for antibody purification. I then continued to work with researchers in the area of HIV virology, and co-authored a book chapter on human T-cell lymphotropic virus types I and II in 2002. In 2004, I first-authored a paper characterizing a novel human anti-HIV-1 monoclonal antibody. To this day, I still continue to participate from time to time on studies involving HIV, and have even co-authored a patent on the anti-HIV activity of the opioid antagonist naloxone.
Although I have continued to study HIV, early in my career, I became particularly interested in Alzheimer’s disease, especially after the diagnoses of a few of those close to me. In 2001, led by co-authors including well-respected Alzheimer’s pathology researchers Drs. Marcia N. Gordon and David Morgan at USF, I contributed to my (then) first published paper on responses in experimental mice to a vaccination including the Alzheimer’s disease-associated beta amyloid 1-42 peptide. I would then go on to co-author over 10 papers studying beta amyloid in Alzheimer’s mice, with a focus on potential treatments.
In 2008, I helped to first-author two papers reporting on potential vaccines for Alzheimer’s disease. The first described the studying and adjuvant-free vaccination using mutated amyloid beta peptides, and the second tested mutant amyloid-beta-sensitized dendritic cells as a possible vaccine. I was also head of a patent on amyloid beta peptides and methods of use. In 2012, I first-authored a book chapter on amyloid beta vaccination strategies in mice, and am currently pursuing a patent on an immunotherapy for the treatment of amyloid-related disorders using encapsulated beta-amyloid peptides.
I have continued to pursue testing the use peptides for vaccination against Alzheimer’s disease by employing mouse models. Through this interest, I have developed a number of important collaborations with industry, and with international and local researchers. With respect to industry, I have had a long-standing collaboration with Biomer Technology, Inc. They have worked with me to provide the many peptides I have tested throughout my vaccine studies. Another long-standing industry collaboration has been between myself and Intezyne technologies, which is in the business of polymer synthesis. We have worked together to use Intezyne’s technology in developing a vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease and together we hold a patent.
Locally in the Tampa area, I participate in the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (FADRC), through this, I have to develop a blood and tissue bank to serve researchers studying biomarkers of neurological disease which I have helped to expand internationally by working with Ningxia Medical University in Yinchuan, China. Ningxia used the same protocol to establish a blood and tissue bank there. My eventual dream is to develop a worldwide international tissue bank to serve researchers all over the world studying biomarkers in neurologic disease. I have also set up a visiting doctoral student and scholar program here at USF, and host many international students in my lab.
In addition to working on developing an Alzheimer’s vaccine, I began working with Drs. Huntington Potter and Gary Arendash at USF, who were also studying Alzheimer’s pathology. This team was instead focusing their studies on the effects of caffeine and coffee on Alzheimers’ pathology. In collaboration with this team, I first-authored two papers in 2009, one on the effect of using amyloid-beta-specific Th2 cells on cognition and pathology, and the other on the effect of caffeine on beta amyloid levels, both in mouse models. To date, I has co-authored over 9 papers on this topic, and continue to collaborate with Dr. Potter at his new research lab at the University of Colorado. This line of research has been of particular interest in the lay community, and my research on caffeine and Alzheimer’s disease has been featured in news articles by CNN, Reuters, and Science Daily.
While I have continued to pursue studies of Alzheimer’s vaccines and the effects of caffeine on Alzheimer’s disease, I have more recently worked with Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos and his team to study granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF) as a potential therapeutic to address Alzheimer’s pathology.In addition, over the last 5 years, I have participated in teams studying the effect of electromagnetic fields, melatonin, and flavonoids, and THC/CBD on Alzheimer’s pathology and behavior using mouse models. I am also co-author on a patent pending for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease through electromagnetic field exposure. In 2014, I first-authored a book chapter on coffee, GCSF and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as a paper on the potential therapeutic effect of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on Alzheimer’s disease.
My growing expertise in the field of Alzheimer’s disease pathology has also crossed over to the field of Parkinson’s disease pathology. In 2008-2009, I served as the Principal Investigator (PI) of a $50,000 grant from the Parkinson Research Foundation to study immunotherapy in Parkinson’s disease using alpha-synuclein mouse models. From 2009 through 2012, I served as Principal Investigator of a $225,000 grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to study T-cell receptor changes as a biomarker for Parkinson’s disease, and we have published the results in the journal of Human Vaccines and Immunotherapy. In 2011, along with Dr. Sanchez-Ramos’ team, I co-authored a paper investigating GCSF in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease. I am also lead author on a patent of a method of diagnosing or assessing risk for Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease using T-cell receptor clonality.
Currently, I have helped to write and publish over 70 peer-reviewed publications, am co-author in three awarded patents, and am a PI of approximately over $750,000 of funding in current grant projects. I'd like to attribute all the quick success so early in my research career to the overwhelming support I have received from the research community, not only from my collaborators, but from my students as well. My passion for science and enjoyment of sharing the experience of laboratory and public health research has led me to mentor a wide range of knowledge-seekers, from high school students to established professors. One high school student that I have mentored previously from 2009-2012 won several awards for science projects in high school, and now is studying a Yale University. I have also mentored many undergraduate students as well. One student won first prize for her project at the 2nd Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, and another undergraduate student I have mentored went on to receive a scholarship to help publish his research.
I also mentor graduate students. I have served and continues to serve as master’s thesis advisor to several students, and serves on many doctoral committees. Currently, I am serving on eight doctoral committees in the Chemistry program at USF. I continue to mentor post-doctoral students, as well as other scholars, many from my homeland of China. The scholars who I think look up to myself as a mentor include professors from many medical universities in China, including Dalian Medical University, Shandong Chinese Traditional Medical University, Shuguang Hospital of Shanghai Traditional Medical University, Fuzhou Chinese Traditional Medical University, Nonghua Hospital of Shanghai Traditional Medical University, and Ningxia Medical University.
At this point in my career, he is poised to take on a higher profile within his academic field, as well as take collaborations, teaching and research to the next level. With several awarded and pending patents and interest from many companies in industry, I believe I am well-positioned to work with my collaborators and students to move these products forward to develop them into viable therapeutics. I have demonstrated the ability to obtain independent research funding, and have established collaborations with companies such as Intezyne, which produces materials that could be used in Alzheimer’s therapeutics. I always try to promote USF’s profile as a leading Alzheimer’s research university internationally through my visiting scholar program, my research collaborations, my extensive work publishing and collaborating on grant applications, and the many high-profile reports featuring my research findings in the media. My goal has always been to help develop cheap, ideal, and stable therapeutics to combat disease, and with the work and dedication of my lab members and my collaborators all around the world, I believe we are close to accomplishing this goal.