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Kai LEI, Ph.D.
School of Life Sciences
Laboratory of Stem Cell Repopulation and Tissue Regeneration
"I hope to grow up with Westlake University, explore the mysteries of life, dedicate to education , and serve the society."
Dr. Kai Lei received his Bachelor’s Degree from Wuhan University and Ph.D. in Developmental Biology at the Institute of Developmental Biology and Molecular Medicine of Fudan University. He then became a postdoctoral research associate with Dr. Sánchez Alvarado at Stowers Institute for Medical Research. Dr. Kai Lei will join the faculties in the School of Life Sciences of Westlake University in October 2018. His lab studies the molecular mechanism of adult stem cell repopulation and tissue regeneration.
Therapies facilitating the regeneration of tissues lost to injury or aging is one of the greatest unmet needs facing the medical community today. A major obstacle to the development of robust regenerative therapies has been a fundamental deficiency in our understanding of the complex molecular mechanisms regulating regeneration.
To help address this knowledge gap, our laboratory studies the molecular mechanisms underpinning regeneration that have evolved across the animal kingdom. Using both invertebrate and vertebrate research organisms—along with state-of-the-art tools in genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, bioinformatics, and high-throughput technologies—we aim to elucidate conserved and divergent mechanisms regulating adult stem cell biology. The ultimate goal of our research is to identify general principles of regeneration and molecular factors that could aid the development of future therapies in humans.
One invertebrate model system we employ is the planarian flatworm. Planarians can fully regenerate a new individual from a piece of tissue as small as 1/279th the size of the original animal. This amazing regenerative capacity is due to the fact that planarians possess a subset of stem cells called cNeoblasts: one of the only pluripotent adult stem cells known to naturally occur in the animal kingdom. A single cNeoblast can completely regenerate all cell types in the planarian’s body, including the entire adult stem cell population itself.
Previously, we used a candidate approach to systematically analyze the function of extracellular signaling pathways during the reconstitution of the adult stem cell compartment from cNeoblasts following sublethal irradiation. We identified EGF signaling as a key regulator in this process. Furthermore, we demonstrated the requirement of asymmetric stem cell division in planarians for the first time (Developmental Cell, 2016).
Based on these studies, we aim to use the EGF phenotype as a “molecular foothold” for further expanding our understanding of planarian adult stem cell regulation. Furthermore, this research will inform concurrent studies of regeneration in mice aimed at distinguishing mechanisms regulating adult stem cell biology that are conserved versus divergent between invertebrates and vertebrates.
2. Lei, K., McKinney S., Ross E., Lee H.C., Sánchez Alvarado A. Cultured pluripotent planarian stem cells retain potency and express proteins from exogenously introduced mRNAs. BioRxiv. March 12, 2019.
3. Davies, E., Lei, K., Seidel, C., Kroesen, A., McKinney, S., Guo, L., Robb S., Ross, E., Gotting, K., Sánchez Alvarado, A. (2017) Embryonic origin of adult stem cells required for tissue homeostasis and regeneration. eLife. 6.
4. Lei, K.*, Vu H., Mohan R., McKinney S., Seidel C., Alexander R., Gotting K., Workman J., Sánchez Alvarado A.* (2016) Egf signaling directs neoblast repopulation by regulating asymmetric cell division in planarians. Developmental Cell. 38(4):413-29. (* co-corresponding authors)
5. Lei, K., Zhu, X., Xu, R., Xu, T., Zhuang, Y., Han, M. (2012) Inner nuclear envelope proteins SUN1 and SUN2 play a prominent role in the DNA damage response. Current Biology. 22(17):1609-15.
6. Yu, J*, Lei, K.*, Zhou, M., Craft, C., Xu, G., Xu, T., Zhuang, Y., Xu, R., Han, M. (2011) KASH protein Syne-2/Nesprin-2 and SUN proteins SUN1/2 mediate nuclear migration during mammalian retinal development. Human Molecular Genetics. 20(6):1061-73. (* co-first authors)
7. Zhang, X, Lei, K., Yuan, X., Wu, X., Zhuang, Y., Xu, T., Xu, R., Han, M. (2009) SUN1/2 and Syne/Nesprin-1/2 complexes connect centrosome to the nucleus during neurogenesis and neuronal migration in mice. Neuron. 64(2):173-87.
8. Lei, K.*, Zhang, X.*, Ding, X., Guo, X., Chen, M., Zhu, B., Xu, T., Zhuang, Y., Xu, R., Han, M. (2009) SUN1 and SUN2 play critical but partially redundant roles in anchoring nuclei in skeletal muscle cells in mice. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 106(25): 10207–12. (* co-first authors)