Liang Cao, Ph.D.

Liang  Cao, Ph.D.
Staff Scientist
Head, Molecular Targets Core

Dr. Liang Cao heads the Molecular Targets Core in the Genetics Branch. Dr. Cao has managed research and drug discovery operations in government, academic, and industry laboratories for more than 17 years. He is the inventor of more than 30 U.S. patents that have resulted in novel diagnostics, drug discovery products, and therapeutic molecules in clinical trials.

Areas of Expertise
1) identification of predictive biomarkers, 2) biomarker assay development and validation, 3) biomarker analysis and correlative studies, 4) molecular pathogenesis of pediatric sarcoma, 5) preclinical evaluation of novel targeted therapies

Contact Info

Liang Cao, Ph.D.
Center for Cancer Research
National Cancer Institute
Building 37, Room 6134
Bethesda, MD 20892-1906
Ph: 240-760-6893

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:

  • Biomarker assay development and validation. The Core uses 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.
  • Implementation of biomarker analysis and correlative studies with clinical investigations at the 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 is interested in 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 a genome-wide identification of direct targets for the translocated oncogene PAX3-FKHR, using chromatin immunoprecipitation and second-generation DNA sequence analysis. Studies such as this one will likely facilitate our understanding of the roles of PAX3-FKHR in the development of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma and assist in 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 the cellular survival signal, thus leading to cancer cell death. These studies are focused on understanding the cellular markers associated with the response of tumors to investigational agents and the events associated with resistance.
Scientific Focus Areas:
Cancer Biology, Cell Biology, Molecular Pharmacology

Selected Recent Publications

  1. Rajan A, Carter CA, Berman A, Cao L, Kelly RJ, Thomas A, Khozin S, Chavez AL, Bergagnini I, Scepura B, Szabo E, Lee MJ, Trepel JB, Browne SK, Rosen LB, Yu Y, Steinberg SM, Chen HX, Riely GJ, and Giaccone G.
    Lancet Oncol. 2014. [ Journal Article ]
  2. Kang Z, Yu Y, Zhu YJ, Davis S, Walker R, Meltzer PS, Helman LJ, and Cao L.
    Oncogene. 33: 5697-705, 2014. [ Journal Article ]
  3. Harouaka R, Kang Z, Zheng S, and Cao L.
    Pharmacol Ther. 2013. [ Journal Article ]
  4. Kang Z, Sun SY, and Cao L.
    ISRN Oncol. 2012: 395952, 2012. [ Journal Article ]
  5. Kalra N, Zhang J, Yu Y, Ho M, Merino M, Cao L, and Hassan R.
    Int J Cancer. 131: 2143-52, 2012. [ Journal Article ]

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.

Name Position
Zhigang Kang M.D., Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Contr)
Yunkai Yu M.S. Research Biologist