Zihai Li, MD, PhD
Zihai Li, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Microbiology & Immunology, was recruited to MUSC as the Hollings Cancer Center's Cancer Immunology Program Leader in 2010. His long-term primary research interest is the mechanisms of immune regulation by the innate immune system in the context of cancer. His research team has made seminal contributions to understanding the immunological properties of heat shock proteins (HSPs) in cancer immunotherapy and immune tolerance. They provided the first genetic evidence linking the heat shock response to antigen cross-presentation and adaptive immunity and pioneered the use of autologous tumor-derived HSP70-peptide complex for the immunotherapy of human leukemia for which Dr. Li was a sponsor of four investigator-initiated INDs in HSP vaccination platforms to treat cancer. Focusing on the HSP gp96, which induces a tumor-specific protective immunity in a variety of experimental tumor models, Dr. Li’s group discovered that gp96 is the master chaperone for TLRs, which are important in the immune response to cancer. Furthermore, using transgenic mouse models, they demonstrated the importance of the subcellular localization of gp96 in regulating T-cell tolerance. This line of research currently focuses on pinpointing the precise mechanism of gp96-TLR interaction and elucidating the implications of this interaction in linking the innate immune system, inflammation, and T-cell responses in cancer and hematopoiesis.