What happens when previously treatable cancers become drug-resistant? Jianneng Li, Archibald Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is trying to answer that question by conducting critical research on prostate cancer.
Li has focused on prostate cancer as the topic of his research for the majority of his career at the Lerner Research Institute at Cleveland Clinic, where he worked before joining the University of Notre Dame faculty in 2023. He studies the effects of steroids on cancer as well as other relationships between enzymes and receptors in cancerous samples.
“I mainly focus on prostate cancer,” Li said, “but steroids are very important for human physiology and also other diseases. Our lab tries to radiate from prostate cancer to other steroid-related cancers and diseases, and even aging.”
In his new role at Notre Dame, Li manages a lab to further this research. He spoke highly of the opportunities for collaboration with other researchers at Notre Dame: “There are a lot of awesome scientists around which benefit our research and also can help us to find new ways to do the research,” he said.
Li also teaches a class this year to graduate students on Methodologies in Biological Research and says the students have been highly impressive.
“The students know what they want; they are self-motivated. That is another reason I chose to be here,” said Li. Both graduate and undergraduate students work in his lab.
Prostate cancer occurs with hormone-dependent malignancy. Its development and progression depend on androgens. Therefore, cutting the androgen supplement and/or inhibiting its receptor activation are the mainstay treatments for prostate cancer. One current project Li is working on is about an enzyme that is involved in androgen synthesis. This enzyme can be inhibited by an FDA-approved drug to treat prostate cancer. The drug prevents the androgen receptor from carrying out its biological activity.
“Hopefully, we can find out the mechanisms underlying the preliminary datafind,” Li said. “This project is also very promising. We are confident that we can figure it out, and by finishing that project, we can provide some implications for the treatment. Ultimately, the goal is to suppress and reverse the spread of cancer.”