Chengkai Dai, Assistant Professor
A novel perspective
Chengkai Dai is looking at cancer from a promising new perspective.
Take a closer look at Chengkai's research.
Treating symptoms just wasn’t enough for when Chengkai Dai practiced medicine in China.
Now a principal investigator at The Jackson Laboratory, Dr. Dai was drawn away from clinical medicine to basic biomedical research by innate curiosity about the mechanisms that underlie human health and disease.
After completing medical school, Dr. Dai stayed in Tianjin, China, for graduate school, studying autoimmune disease in the thyroid gland. His circuitous path toward his Ph.D. brought him in 1998 from China to the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center, where he did research on human gliomas, one common type of brain tumors, at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He completed his doctorate while working at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he studied cell types that give rise to life-threatening brain tumors.
Dr. Dai’s postdoctoral fellowship brought him to Boston, where he conducted cancer research at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. He was hired as an assistant professor at The Jackson Laboratory in December 2008. Ever since, he’s busy recruiting and overseeing a hand-picked research team that is studying the biomolecular mechanics that contribute to the ability of cancer cells to multiply at will.
Stress response in cancer cells
Dr. Dai’s research looks at cancer from a whole new angle. Dai is among the first cancer researchers to study the stress response, a mechanism found throughout nature that normally protects healthy cells from environmental stress.
In human cancers, the system, in effect, change allegiance and instead helps to protect cancer cells, allowing them to grow and divide very rapidly. Recently awarded a $2.7 million grant through the National Institutes of Health’s New Innovators Award program, Dai is looking at ways to short-circuit the stress response in cancer cells, which provides a new and promising way kill the cancer cells and develop effective treatments.