Team Archive - Page 2 of 6 - NFCR


Xiang-Lei Yang, Ph.D.

The Scripps Research Institute

San Diego, California
Professor, Department of Molecular Medicine


As an essential component of all living cells, aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRS) are a family of enzymes that catalyze the first step reaction in protein synthesis. This required function for all living things has been conserved in evolution – existing in lower organisms (such as the roundworm) and in higher organisms (humans) – thus, validating aaRS as ‘’ancient enzymes’.

Dr. Yang is a leading scientist in aaRS research, joining NFCR-sponsored scientist Dr. Paul Schimmel in the discoveries that these ancient enzymes also carry other vital, yet unexpected biological roles.

Using a cross-disciplinary approach including structural analysis, biophysics, biochemistry, and cell biology, her team is revealing mechanistic insights of aaRS roles in formation of cancer and neurological processes. Armed with a 3-D picture of aaRS and their new biological roles in mammals, the lab proceeds to develop promising therapeutic strategies.

Dr. Yang has recently discovered that one aaRS enzyme for the amino acid Serine, or SerRS, has a role in regulation of blood vessel growth or angiogenesis – a process vital to cancer development. Tumors require their own vasculature system, providing vital oxygen and nutrients essential for cancer to thrive and grow. Dr. Yang’s team determined that SerRS interacts with and inhibits c-Myc, one of the most significant cancer-causing or oncogenes that is upregulated in many types of cancers. c-My controls downstream genes including the gene for key blood vessel growth factor, VEGF.  By inhibiting the expression of VEGF, tumor blood vessel formation is shut down, starving tumors of nutrients. SerRS is likely a potent suppressor of cancer progression and metastasis. Dr. Yang’s team is expanding this critical area of research and may lead to novel therapeutic applications.

Another aaRS of heightened focus for Dr. Yang’s lab is GlyRS, the enzyme for amino acid Glycine. The team of scientists have identified and continue to explore GlyRS as an important regulator in cancer associated cellular processes such as cell-cycle progression.


Xiang-Lei Yang, Ph.D., received her B.S. in biomedical engineering from Capital Institute of Medical Sciences in Beijing, China in 1993, and then went on to earn her Ph.D. in Biophysics and Computational Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Currently, Dr. Yang is Professor of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute. She is also a Visiting Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Dr. Yang is the Founding Chair, Translation Machinery in Health & Disease Gordon Research Conference, 2015.

Dr. Yang has authored or co-authored more than 72 articles, many of them in high impact journals. She is the co-founder of biotech company, aTry Pharma, which focuses on developing tRNA synthesase-related molecules for therapeutic applications.

Areas of Focus

Cancer Types

Years of NFCR Funding

2005 – Present

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Julia Felts

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Rachel Pikovsky

Grassroots Marketing Associate

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Joseph F. Franlin

Chairman of the Board

Mr. Joseph Franlin is currently Chairman of the Board of the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR).  He has been in this position for three years, having served on the NFCR Board of Advisors and Board of Directors.  Mr. Franlin was drawn to NFCR because of its successful and transformational support of breakthrough scientific research.  He brings over 45 years of business acumen and skill to the position.  Joe works collaboratively with the Board, Foundation senior management, and supported research scientists to ensure the success of NFCR’s mission.

Over the course of his varied and successful business career in the technology sector, Mr. Franlin has had “C” level responsibilities for profit and loss; large scale project management; enterprise wide contract negotiations; customer relations; and business development.  The nexus of these experiences led to his co-founding of Neustar and of its ultimate initial public offering on the New York Stock exchange.  Neustar is now a $1.2 billion company and has recently been acquired and taken private.  Mr. Franlin has since retired.

Joe and his wife, Judy, have been actively involved in supporting their community in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County.  He has chaired the municipal committee responsible for local economic development and has also served as a member of the municipality’s governing Council.  As a patron of the arts, Joe serves as Treasurer of the local art center and is on the Board of the regional theatre.  He is also a founding member of an environmental group dedicated to assuring sustainable water in Pennsylvania’s historic canal system.  Balancing their non-profit endeavors, Joe and Judy are caring parents to two children and grandparents to seven grandchildren.

Mr. Franlin is an alumnus of New York University where he achieved a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and an M.S. in Management Science. 

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Linda Haglund

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