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Liang Cao, Ph.D.

Portait Photo of Liang Cao
Genetics Branch
Head, Molecular Targets Core
Staff Scientist
Center for Cancer Research
National Cancer Institute
Building 37, Room 6134
Bethesda, MD 20892-1906


Dr. Cao received his Ph.D. from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard University in 1991. Subsequently, he was a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Fellow at the Cancer Center of Massachusetts General Hospital. He has managed research and drug discovery operations in academic and industry labs for 17 years. He is an inventor of over 30 US patents that resulted in novel diagnostics, drug discovery products, and therapeutic molecules in clinical trials.


The Molecular Targets Core currently develops technologies and assays that allow clinical investigators to examine the effects of drugs on intended targets and their associated pathways, as well as relevant biomarkers that are indicative of biological responses to the treatment. The Core has expertise in the following areas that are available to the clinical investigators:

1. Biomarker assay development and validation. The Core utilizes highly sensitive immunoassays, mostly based on a unique electrochemiluminescence technology that provides superior sensitivity, specificity, dynamic range and throughput needed for the analysis of clinical specimens. There are a range of biomarker assays available for cell proliferation, tumor angiogenesis, cell signaling, and apoptosis.

2. Implementation of biomarker analysis and correlative studies with clinical investigations at NCI. The Core has the ability to perform biomarker testing and to analyze data for selected endpoints. The Core has an extensive number of engagements on current clinical trials at NCI.

Dr. Cao has research interests on two major areas of translational cancer research:

1. Molecular pathogenesis of pediatric sarcoma to understand the initiation of pathogenic process and to identify cellular targets for targeted therapies. The lab recently performed the genome-wide identification of direct targets for translocated oncogene PAX3-FKHR, using chromatin immunoprecipitation and second generation DNA sequence analysis. Such study will likely facilitate the understanding of the roles of PAX3-FKHR in the development of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, and the identification and validation of downstream targets for preclinical evaluation.

2. Preclinical evaluation of novel targeted therapies and identification of predictive biomarkers to be implemented for clinical investigations. The lab focuses on biologics that modulate cellular survival signal and thus, leading to the cancer cell death. The studies are focused on understanding the cellular markers associated with the response of the tumors to these investigational agents and events associated with resistance.

This page was last updated on 3/31/2014.