Xuebing Wu, PhD, has been selected as a Pew-Stewart Scholar for his innovative approaches to cancer research.

Xuebing Wu, PhD

Announced June 15, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust named five early-career researchers to its prestigious Pew-Stewart Scholars Program for cancer research. This talented class of scholars will receive four years of funding to advance groundbreaking research into the development, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease.

Dr. Wu is a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia and assistant professor of medicine and of systems biology at the Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons. His research seeks to bridge the discovery of basic mechanisms of gene regulation with the development of novel therapeutics for human diseases, focusing on cancer and cardiometabolic diseases.

As a Pew-Stewart scholar, Dr. Wu will investigate the dysregulation of messenger RNA structure in the development of breast cancer.

One of the least understood ways of controlling genes is by changing the shape of the messenger RNA (mRNA), an intermediate carrier of the genetic information stored in genes. Messenger RNA serves as the template for making proteins, but its molecules are like a string of sticky beads that can fold into complex shapes and block protein production. A group of molecular helpers called helicases can unwind those structures and thus control gene expression.

“Intriguingly, many helicases have shown abnormal activities in breast cancer and other cancers but at this moment we don’t yet know what these helicase do to other genes,” says Dr. Wu, a member of the Precision Oncology and Systems Biology research program at the HICCC. “We are developing new technologies that will tell us the shape of all mRNAs in the cell, and help us understand how they change in breast cancer and how they respond to various treatment. We hope that our study will tell us the inner workings of breast cancer and help guide us in designing new, improved therapeutic targets in breast cancer.”

Dr. Wu joined Columbia in the fall of 2018. At the center of his interests is understanding the fundamental principles of gene regulation in human cells through integrative genomics approaches. His previous work has uncovered important roles of RNA sequence and structure signals in controlling the expression and evolution of the mammalian genome. Dr. Wu and collaborators have been increasingly turning their attention to genomic technologies such as the revolutionary CRISPR/Cas system and a high throughput analysis technology called massively parallel reporter assays (MPRA), as well as novel computational tools and deep learning models to study gene regulation at a global scale.

The Pew Charitable Trust announced a total of 22 early-career researchers for its scholars program in the biomedical sciences. At Columbia, Dr. Wu joins fellow faculty members, Dr. Samuel Sternberg (biochemistry and molecular biophysics) and Dr. Miguel Villavicencio Camarillo (neuroscience) as a new Pew scholar. Another HICCC member, Dr. Chao Lu, was selected for the Pew-Stewart scholars program in cancer research in 2019.

-Melanie A. Farmer