Faculty Feature: Xuelin Lou, MD, PhD

Xuelin Lou, PhD

Q&A with Xuelin

Why did you choose to become a Cancer Center member?
As a Cancer Center member, I feel there will be fewer scientific boundaries among subjects once you drill deep enough. I also see some interesting, potential applications of DNM studies in understanding cancer development and possible novel therapy.

What is the focus of your research?
As a cell biologist and biophysicist, I’m fascinated by cellular membrane trafficking. My lab focuses on the molecular principles governing this process, particularly the vesicle trafficking associated with diabetes, neurodegeneration, and cancer. Vesicle trafficking is a fundamental process required for cell signaling and material exchange, which involves both physiological and pathological conditions. A typical example is its role in hormone and transmitter release in professional secretory cells (like endocrine cells and neurons), but it also plays broad roles in non-secretory cells. Malfunction of vesicle trafficking is closely implicated in multiple pathological conditions, including cancer development and metastasis.

You also have a keen interest in microscopy. Tell us more.
My group has been pioneering the studies and applications of super-resolution microscopy and subcellular optogenetics. With my curiosity in biomedical engineering and biophysics, I am passionate about building innovative sensitive imaging tools to tackle molecular function. I am excited to visualize molecules in action in cells and complex tissues.

Several years ago, scientists received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for super-resolution imaging. With the rapid progress of this technology, there is an increasing need for such tools. As Director of the ACIC, I lead a super-resolution imaging group of over 12 investigators across campus, and we are currently working on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) High-End Instrumentation (HEI) proposal aiming to acquire next-generation stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy at MCW. This technology provides super-resolution imaging capability to facilitate groundbreaking discoveries in broad biomedical fields, including cancer biology.

What is a current project you are excited about and why?
One of our projects focuses on DNM genes, which encode a large GTPase family of proteins involved closely with endocrine function, neural degeneration, and brain glioma. DNMs not only regulate normal cellular trafficking but also play an essential role in cancer progression and DNA repair. Interestingly, DNM2 expression has been recently reported to predict the chemoresistance of several types of cancer and can be explored as a druggable target to suppress cancer, and this progress has stirred my interest in this new area of cancer research. I am eager to learn the DNM’s role in cancer onset and chemoresistance through collaboration with oncologists. We are also interested in exploring the role of synapse-cancer interactions in glioma progression.

Collaboration is key to accelerating discoveries. How is your lab partnering with other scientists, clinicians, and partners?
Collaboration benefits everyone and is necessary for research innovation. Depending on specific cases, while there are collaborators with specific expertise, other investigators frequently reach out to us for collaboration on our specialties (such as membrane trafficking, super-resolution imaging, and synapse-tumor interactions). My group has a strong interest in collaboration, either with basic scientists or physician-scientists.

What advice would you give an early-career researcher who is passionate about working in your lab/pursuing your area of study?
Nature never stops surprising us. Asking a bold, true question and sticking to it is the most crucial step toward a groundbreaking discovery that can move the field forward.

Learn more about Dr. Lou’s research.