Molecular Understanding and Immunotherapy of Metastatic Cancer

Know What Is This Cancer Immunotherapy And Why Is This Replacing Chemotherapy In Cancer Treatments

Principal Investigator

Xin Lu

Xin Lu, Ph.D.
John M. and Mary Jo Boler Assistant Professor

Department of Biological Sciences;
Junior Chair, Boler-Parseghian Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases (CRND);
Full member, Harper Cancer Research Institute (HCRI);
Cluster Chair, Cellular & Molecular Biology Cluster, Integrated Biomedical Sciences (IBMS);
PhD Program;
Member, Chemistry-Biochemistry-Biology Interface (CBBI) Program;
Member, Warren Family Center for Drug Discovery;
Member, Eck Institute for Global Health (EIGH);
Member, Advanced Diagnostics & Therapeutics (AD&T);
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN


Full Member, Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program, Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center (NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center), Indianapolis, IN

Phone: 574-631-6592 (office); 574-631-3960 (lab)


Brief Biography
  • John M. and Mary Jo Boler Assistant Professor, University of Notre Dame, IN 2017-Present
  • Instructor, Department of Cancer Biology, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 2014-2016
  • Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellow. Department of Cancer Biology, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 2011-2014
  • Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellow. Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 2010-2011
  • Ph.D. (Molecular Biology), Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 2004-2010
  • B.S. (Biological Sciences), Tsinghua University, Beijing, China 2000-2004

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Lab Manager/Research Assistant


Xiaoxia Peng

Xiaoxia performs important technical assistance work to facilitate the research in the lab.

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Postdoctoral Researchers

Tianhe Huang

Yun Zhao, PhD.

Yun Zhao’s research project is to perform an in-depth characterization of tumor-associated neutrophils (TAN) in metastatic breast cancer. By exploring some of the questions that have yet to be answered, he hopes to manipulate these TANs to combat metastatic breast cancer. His final career goal is to develop potential therapeutics to increase the survial of patients. His motto is “Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well”.

Nyasha Mokoni
Nyasha Makoni

From a young age, I have always had a fascination with science…the human body, the immune system, and its involvement in the development and progression of diseases. Thus, my career interests lie in translational research, immunology, immunotherapies, and drug discovery. I started off my academic career in Chemistry and later transitioned to Biochemistry because I was interested in a more integrative approach. I spent a greater part of my doctoral research studying the innate immune system and the involvement of the NLRP3 inflammasome in Alzheimer’s disease (AD)-related neuroinflammation.

My next challenge is tackling the big C, cancer, via conducting mechanistic studies of metastatic prostate cancer, and ultimately employing targeted and combination therapies. My goals include exploring the tumor microenvironment, and understanding the interplay between tumors, immune cells, inflammatory factors, and immunosuppression. In addition, I will also investigate possible prostate cancer metastasis to the brain and how that may be connected to Toll-like receptor (TLR)-signaling and the NLRP3 inflammasome. Apart from my love of science, I am also passionate about equality, social justice, diversity, and inclusion. It is my hope to see more women and minorities excelling in STEM. To quote the late Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks."

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Graduate Students (PhD track)

Loan Duong Cropped
Loan Duong

Loan is from San Jose, California. She is interested in understanding immunological mechanisms underlying cancer and metastasis as well as improving methods of immunotherapy. 



Guoqiang “Orson” Liu

Orson devotes himself to investigating the mechanism of cancer progression and developing possible novel therapies for tumors. Now, he is specifically working on mechanism of androgen receptor(AR) inhibitor resistance and regulation of PD-L1 expression in prostate cancer by CRISPR screening.


Sean Murphy

A BIOS Ph.D. student, Sean is from Arlington, Indiana. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology from Wittenberg University he acquired a Masters of Science degree from Johns Hopkins University in Biotechnology while also working as a Research Technologist. His main interests include improving immunotherapy for cancer treatment as well as what role diet can play in treating and preventing cancer.

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Sharif Rahmy

An IBMS graduate student, Sharif identifies intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms underlying resistance to immune checkpoint blockade therapy.


X Wang
Xuechun Wang

Xuechun investigates the function of VHL/HIF signaling and the underlying mechanism for the VHL disease. Xuechun is also interested in single cell technologies and the associated computational analysis.

Yuting Zhang

Yuting Zhang

Yuting is focusing on how the genotype of cancer influences the phenotype of the immune cells in the tumor microenvironment. Yuting loves Chinese classical dance and folk dance.

Yini Zhu

Yini Zhu

Life is such a beauty, I love and admire it, it makes me crazy. An IBMS graduate student, my project now is creating a new mouse model to have a better knowledge of how the smart but bad tumor escape from immune system.

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Rotation Graduate Students (2021)

Samir El Idrissi Cropped
Samir El Idrissi

Samir received his Bachelors in Molecular Biology from Loyola University. He is currently an IBMS PhD student at University of Notre Dame.

Wei Ma Cropped
Wei Ma

A biology science Ph.D student, Wei Ma acquired a Master of Science degree from University of Southern California in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. He regards exploring tumor immunology mechanisms and potential therapies as the long-term interest in his research career.

Lauren Mayer Cropped
Lauren Mayer

I am a graduate student in the IBMS program. I received my B.S. in Mathematical Biology from William & Mary with a minor in Computational Biology. I wish to use my talents to be a force for good in the world by discovering more efficient ways to combat cancer. My main interests revolve around signaling pathways activated in cancer and cancer immunotherapy. 

Xinrui Yang Cropped
Xinrui Yang

I received my Biology undergraduate degree at Lawrence University, WI. I then became a technician at Moffitt Cancer Center for one year before coming into Notre Dame as a Ph.D. candidate.

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Undergraduate Students

Christina An

Ariana Arce

Michael Chou

Hawraa Janabi Cropped
Hawraa Al Janabi

From San Francisco, California, Hawraa is a freshman Balfour-Hesburgh Scholar, studying Neuroscience and Behavior on a pre-med pathway. Interested in the intersection of the fields of immunology and oncology, Hawraa works with Yini Zhu to explore pathways of metastasis in prostate cancer. Additionally, Hawraa is also interested in new approaches to immunotherapy that provide more targeted treatment to cancer by identifying the specific pathway of metastasis. In the future, Hawraa hopes to receive an MD/PhD and conduct research in the field of Neuro-oncology.

Caroline Kaczmarek

Working with Tianhe.

Elizabeth Kerner

Maxim Manyak

Working with Sean.

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Benjamin McCarthy

Ben McCarthy, a member of the O’Neill mob, is a Biological Sciences major with minors in Studio Art and the Glynn Honors program. He is a member of the Boxing Club and Uplift program at Notre Dame and likes to keep active with many interhall sports. Ben aims to attend medical school and is interested in surgery and orthopedics. 

Marco Napolitano Crop
Marco Napolitano

Marco is a junior from San Diego, California majoring in biology and minoring in accounting.  He resides in Baumer Hall and is a member of the varsity men's lacrosse team on campus.  He is working with Xuechun Wang, assisting her with various projects.  Cancer research has always been of strong interest for Marco, and he is excited to continue his work in the Lu Lab.

Tommy Pham
Tommy Pham

Tommy is a sophomore studying Neuroscience and Behavior at the University of Notre Dame. He is currently working along with Guoqiang “Orson” Liu to examine closely the pathological processes that are associated with the resistance of cancer immunotherapy. Specifically, he is working to see how reactive nitrogen species (RNS), antimicrobial molecules that are generated by myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), contribute to the resistance of cancer immunotherapy.


Emily Wilt

My name is Emily Wilt, and I am a sophomore Science-Business major on the Pre-Med track. I am from the suburbs of Chicago and I now live in McGlinn hall. I am very excited to be working in the Lu lab, as I have always wanted to participate in research. Cancer research is an area of particular interest to me, so I am looking forward to my time working on the projects in the Lu lab.


Ziyu Zeng Cropped
Ziyu "Platina" Zeng

Ziyu Zeng is a senior undergraduate with a biology major and a ACMS supplementary major. She is from Guangzhou, China. She is currently working with Dr. Yun Zhao in exploring the metabolic reprogramming of prostate and breast cancer. She is interested in cancer and genetic and hopes to obtain a PhD degree in computational biology.

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Postdoctoral Fellows
  • Tianhe Huang, M.D., Ph.D. (2018-2021), current position: Physician oncologist, China
  • Fang Liu, Ph.D. (Mar – Oct 2018, co-mentored with Dr. Kasturi Haldar) Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow in Kasturi Haldar lab
  • Shan Feng, Ph.D. (2017-2018) Current position: Director, Mass Spectrometry Core Facility, School of Life Sciences, Westlake University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Graduate Students
  • Miaomiao Sun: Master of Science (2018-2020), thesis on “Antibody-drug conjugate efficacy for breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers”. Current position: PhD Program in Cancer Biology, University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland
  • Meidan Wang: Master of Science (2018-2020), thesis on “Combined immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy for colon and ovarian cancers”. Current position: PhD Program in Oncology and Cancer Biology, The University of Freiburg, Germany
Undergraduate students
  • Sam Arroyo (2018)
  • Hope Baldwin (2021)
  • Louise Medina Bengtsson (2021), currently MD/PhD Program, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
  • Rhea Desouza (2021)
  • Christian Frederickson (2019)
  • Xiao Han (exchange student from Sichuan University, 2018)
  • Yanting Luo (2020), Honors Program, Paul F. Ware, M.D. Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award. Current position: PhD student in Duke University
  • Jackson Mittlesteadt (2020), currently medical student in Ohio University, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • William Morgenlander (2018), Honors Program, Outstanding Biological Scientist Award 2018. Current position: MD/PhD student in John Hopkins University)
Lab Manager/Research Assistant
  • Valentin Calvillo (2019-2020)
  • Seema Chaudhary (2017-2018)