Display Accessibility Tools

Accessibility Tools


Highlight Links

Change Contrast

Increase Text Size

Increase Letter Spacing

Readability Bar

Dyslexia Friendly Font

Increase Cursor Size

New Faculty Brings Diverse Expertise to MSU's Department of Physiology

By T. Lee
Eunhee Yi headshot
"I am very excited to start my dream job within the Department of Physiology where I can collaborate with people from different research fields," Yi said. Credit: T. Lee

Eunhee Yi knows how important her research in molecular cancer biology and cancer genomics will be to developing effective cancer treatments.

With a particular interest on extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA), which is a significant mode of oncogene amplification across various cancer types, the new assistant professor in the Department of Physiology says understanding the molecular mechanisms facilitated by ecDNAs that drive cancer progression and drug resistance, will be key to developing successful cancer therapy.

“The impact of ecDNA on cancer is significant,” Yi said. “It creates multiple layers of tumor heterogeneity, a diversity among cancer cells with different biological behaviors, complicating cancer therapy. However, due to a lack of molecular mechanism studies, we are far from successfully targeting ecDNA's function to make cancer treatment more effective.”

This is where Yi is hoping her laboratory will step in and contribute to.

“We will identify the essential molecular mechanisms that enable cancers to progress and develop drug resistance through ecDNA,” she said. “Our research will provide a new strategy to overcome ecDNA-driven therapy failure and pave the way for more successful cancer treatment.”

Born in Incheon, South Korea, Yi grew up wanting to be a physician. She studied biotechnology as an undergraduate at Konkuk University, South Korea, before receiving her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences at Seoul National University. She completed her post-doctoral research focused on understanding behaviors of ecDNA in glioblastoma at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut. Prior to coming to MSU, Yi was an associate research scientist at Yale, where she continued her research focused on ecDNA maintenance.

“My postdoc mentor, Dr. Roel Verhaak, introduced me to ecDNA while I was interviewing with his lab for a postdoc position,” Yi said. “Immediately, I was captured by it. The fact that there was no tool to explore ecDNA’s behavior really drew me. And I dived in to develop ecTag, a live-cell ecDNA tracking method.”

Innovative techniques like ecTag and Yi’s expertise will make her a valuable asset to the Department of Physiology.

“I believe that bringing my expertise in genome engineering and image-based high-throughput screening platform, where we can screen and identify specific genes or functional drugs by looking at the phenotypes of cancer cells captured by high-throughput confocal imaging, makes me a unique and valuable addition to the department,” said Yi adding that establishing a happy and inclusive working environment in her lab is a top priority.

Even though Yi anticipates balancing work and home to be tough, the mother of one daughter with another one on the way is hoping to find that right balance.

“Balancing between my new roles as a PI and as a mom can be challenging,” she said. “However, I am confident that I will learn how to balance these roles with the help of many great mentors in the department!”

Qingguang Zhang's headshot
"I am super excited to join the department to work with all the fantastic scientists and students, to contribute to and draw strength from the diverse research environment, and to facilitate student learning and success through coursework, research mentorship and outreach to the broader community," Zhang said. Credit: T. Lee

Qingguang Zhang’s laboratory is in a unique position within the Department of Physiology.

As one of two new assistant professors this semester, Zhang brings with him a wealth of experience and skills, which will aid in bridging research area gaps within the department.

“With the combination of my functional/structural brain imaging background, extensive training in engineering and systems neuroscience, and the Department of Physiology’s strengths in cardiovascular physiology and neuroscience, my research laboratory hopes to conduct innovative research to understand the mechanisms of how the nervous and vascular systems work in concert to ensure proper brain function,” Zhang said.

His diverse and complementary skillset that spans the fields of biomedical engineering, cardiovascular physiology and systems neuroscience didn’t happen overnight though.

Born and raised in a small city in the northern part of China, Zhang’s research career began at Shandong University in Jinan, China where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering. His early training focused on developing analysis approaches using sophisticated signal processing methods for measuring and analyzing physiological dynamics in humans.

“I believed in turning research ideas into final products,” Zhang said. “It was my dream path to combine life science and engineering principles to improve the way we practice cardiovascular medicine.”

Zhang next worked as a software development engineer at a medical device company which focused on providing affordable medical instruments to rural areas.

In 2011, Zhang would continue his training in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Kentucky, where he obtained his PhD. Here, he studied cardiovascular autonomic regulation and cerebral autoregulation during environmental stress (e.g., gravity and air pollution) in humans.

Motivated to understand the mechanisms of cerebrovascular regulation, he shifted his research into systems neuroscience to expand his training.

He joined Dr. Patrick Drew’s lab at Penn State in 2015 as a postdoctoral fellow to study the mechanisms of how the brain blood flow and brain tissue oxygenation is regulated, using awake, behaving mouse models.

By 2020, Zhang was working as an assistant research professor at Penn State, a role he held before coming to MSU. His research focused on aging using an integrated approach that combined cellular structure brain mapping and in vivo functional imaging. His current research is supported by a Career Development Award from the American Heart Association.

“My research focuses on problems at the intersection of life sciences and engineering,” he said. “Specifically, the goal of my research is to improve the practice of brain research by applying engineering principles to understand the mechanisms of cerebrovascular physiology and leveraging this knowledge to develop new methods for improved disease screening and treatment.”

To achieve this, his lab combine advanced imaging techniques to study the brain at different scales during natural behaviors, and cellular and molecular techniques to probe signaling patterns and mechanisms in subtypes of cells to determine their contributions to brain function, using mouse models.

“Proper vascular function is critical for brain health, and disruption of cerebral circulation has profound neurologic implications,” said Zhang adding that many neurological diseases and conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have a vascular underpinning. “There is a need to understand exactly how blood flow is regulated in both healthy and disease states, and in determining whether correcting these deficits can improve neuronal health and function.”

Looking ahead, Zhang says he’s excited to contribute and draw strength from the diverse research environment within the Department of Physiology as well as indulging in some favorite pastimes with his wife and two sons in their new home in Michigan.

“I run sometimes,” said Zhang, who enjoys woodworking, grilling, and playing various sports with his sons, too. “But mostly because I know it’s good for me; not because I enjoy it all that much.”