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Lab Notes on: Dr. Jian Cao

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Rebecca Zhang's notes on Dr. Jian Cao, a professor at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.


Dr. Jian Cao is an assistant professor in the department of medicine at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Ever since he was a child, Dr. Cao has been interested in scientific research. He enjoyed the stories of great scientific findings, like the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming, and dreamed of also making such discoveries. As Dr. Cao grew, his love for biology swelled as well, leading him to select biomedical science as his major in an Interdisciplinary Program at Nanjing University and China Pharmaceutical University. He went on to earn his Ph.D at Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology and complete his postdoctoral training at Yale School of Medicine.

Now, Dr. Cao and the Cao Laboratory focuses on studying cancer, specifically the roles of epigenetic mechanisms that regulate anti-immune tumor response. He frequently utilizes human cancer cells from tumors cultured in dishes to study cancer gene functions and test drugs that could be used against cancer. Dr. Cao also works with model organisms like mice to reinforce his findings in live animals. Though all of Dr. Cao’s work is rather impressive, perhaps his most significant contributions to the scientific community are his findings on KDM5 histone demethylases¹. Histones are basic proteins found in the nuclei of eukaryotic cells and are essential parts of an organism’s epigenome, the factors outside of DNA sequences that affect gene expression and function. DNA wind around these histones to create nucleosomes, and nucleosomes pack together to form chromatin. The compactness of these nucleosomes affects levels of gene expression. Another method of genetic regulation is methylation, the addition of a methyl group onto DNA or histones. Histone demethylases catalyze, or cause, the methyl tags to be removed from histones, quite literally de-methylating histones.

Research, says Dr. Cao, is like playing a jigsaw puzzle. Finding the right place for a puzzle piece is often difficult and confusing. Sometimes, it seems as if the piece doesn’t fit anywhere, and all possibilities have produced no results. Finally finding where a piece belongs just when it seems like it has no place in Dr. Cao’s puzzles brings him immense satisfaction and is his favorite part of research. Though his research is still at its early stages, Dr. Cao hopes to use these hard-earned findings to learn more and help save suffering patients just like his peers have. His undying curiosity motivates him through the demanding and at times tedious work required in the field of research.

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