Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Hanes and Willis Family Professor in Cancer
Director, Cancer Genomics and Precision Oncology
Director, Genetics and Metabolism of Cancer Program
Professor, Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University
Co-Director, ISB/MDACC Genome Data Analysis Center

Research

Dr. Zhang is a leader of precision oncology, using NFCR support since 2006 to characterize underlying genetic mechanisms responsible for cancer growth and progression. His research addresses the variability in cellular properties, within and across cancer types, which often leads to treatment resistance and poor survival in patients. For example, African-Americans diagnosed with lung cancer have higher incidences and lower survival rates than Caucasian Americans. Utilizing leading-edge genomic techniques, Dr. Zhang discovered that lung cancer in African-Americans expressed higher immunosuppressive components, permitting the lung cancer to escape attack by their immune system.

Dr. Zhang’s research has advanced our understanding of the role of genetic mutations in cancer progression and treatment: 1) lung cancer in African-Americans expresses a mutation in the TP53 tumor suppressor gene, leading to shorter survival times; 2) daily alcohol consumption causes DNA damage and changes in over 600 genes shown to be involved in cancer development; and 3) development of new computational methods utilizing artificial intelligence can predict the origin of cancers that have metastasized to the brain. Dr. Zhang’s precision oncology approach has the potential to improve outcomes for patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia, melanoma, sarcoma, and cancers of the lung, gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, ovary, uterus, brain and liver.

Bio

Wei Zhang, Ph.D., is the Director of Cancer Genomics and Precision Oncology at the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest. He is also co-director of one of the Genome Data Analysis Centers.

Dr. Zhang graduated from Peking University in Beijing, China in 1985 before receiving his Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Texas. From 1999 to 2016, Dr. Zhang was the director of the Genomics Core Laboratory at MD Anderson’s Cancer Center. In 2004, he joined the faculty of MD Anderson’s Cancer Center and, in just two years, rose to the rank of full professor, teaching pathology and cancer biology. From 2014 to 2016, Dr. Zhang was the Director of the NFCR Center for Cancer System Informatics at MD Anderson’s Cancer Center.

Dr. Zhang has published more than 350 peer-reviewed papers and his research has been supported by numerous grants from the National Cancer Institute, the Department of Defense, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and several foundations, including NFCR, the Goldhirsh Foundation, the James S. McDonald Foundation and the Shriver Initiatives for Sarcoma. He received the 2020 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Team Science Awards.

Related Content

What is Genomic Sequencing, and Who Can Benefit?

There’s a paradigm shift taking place in the world of cancer treatment. Experts are moving away from an organ-focused approach to treatment, like using radiation to treat the specific area affected by cancer. Instead, they’re looking at genomic sequencing.  Genomics is the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of an individual’s genes. Regarding cancer, genomics allows experts to examine DNA to determine an individual’s risk of cancer through genomic sequencing. This means that oncologists can provide more individualized treatment options for patients using precision medicine.  How can cancer risk be determined through genomic sequencing? Parents pass along many traits to their children, such as hair and eye color. Unfortunately, the risk of developing certain types of cancer can also pass along. By examining DNA, experts can identify certain changes in a person’s DNA known for increasing their risk of developing various types of cancer. However, not all cancers pass genetically. In fact, only five to ten percent of all cancers are believed to have an inherited gene mutation. It is important to note that no test can provide exact answers about a person’s inherited cancer risk. Genetic testing can tell whether a specific genetic mutation exists in the DNA. However, it cannot tell whether an individual will develop the disease associated with that mutation later in life or not. What is the benefit of genomic sequencing? Genomic sequencing cannot prevent a cancer diagnosis but can help identify cancer-related DNA mutations. This means an individual can implement precautionary measures. These measures could include making healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, ceasing smoking, or reducing alcohol consumption. Depending on the type of mutation, medications may be available to reduce one’s risk of developing cancer. Similarly, genomic sequencing may highlight the option of surgery to remove an organ or gland to prevent cancer from forming or promote undergoing more health screenings regularly.  Who should utilize genomic sequencing? Experts typically only recommend genetic sequencing for patients whose families have a history of certain cancers or patterns of cancer. Doctors may order genetic testing for people that have: Multiple first-degree relatives with cancer diagnoses; Numerous relatives who have been diagnosed with the same cancer on one side of the family; A family history of cancers linked to a single gene mutation, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or pancreatic cancer; Family member(s) who has been diagnosed with more than one type of cancer; Family member(s) who has been diagnosed with cancer at a younger age than typically seen for that cancer, such as colon cancer; Close relatives who have been diagnosed with cancers linked to rare hereditary cancer syndromes, such as Hereditary Breast & Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC), Cowden Syndrome, or Lynch Syndrome; or Family member(s) who has been diagnosed with rare cancer, such as breast cancer in a male. Can we expect more research in genomic sequencing?  National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is committed to advancing genomic research and its potential to be the future of developing treatment plans for cancer patients. As such, NFCR funds a dozen world-renowned researchers paving the way in genomic research. […]

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