Our laboratory is interested in the molecular mechanisms regulating cancer cell-immune cell interaction. Cancer cells employ a complex set of machinery to modulate their immunogenicity, which underlies their response to of immunotherapy. In order to better understand these mechanisms, our group employs both high throughput screening methods and CRISPR-Cas9-based lentiviral system to interrogate novel pathways, which bear translational potential in classifying tumors into high immunogenic and low immunogenic groups. Specifically we have two major directions:

  1. We are interested in mechanisms regulating the Danger-Associated Molecular Pattern (DAMP) sensing pathways. Tumor-derived DAMPs could trigger robust innate immunity. These pathways are critically important to generate an effective tumor-antigen specific immune response. Facilitated by high throughput screening approaches, we are able to identify novel signaling proteins that regulate the function of intracellular Pattern Recognition Receptors (PRRs), which are pivotal for DAMPs recognition. We are investigating the roles of these novel proteins in cancer cell response to immunotherapy.
  2. A large family of evolutionarily conserved proteins, NLR (Nucleotide binding domain, lots of Leucine rich Repeats containing proteins, also knowns NOD-like Receptors), play fundamental roles in regulating DAMP-induced inflammation, autophagy, and cell death. We are studying how NLRs regulate cancer cell immunogenicity.

Core techniques: Head and Neck Cancer in vivo modeling, protein biochemistry, autophagic flux assays, molecular cloning, flow cytometry, lentiviral shRNA delivery, retroviral gene expression, confocal imaging, transcriptome profiling (RNA-Seq), quantitative mass spectrometry, and CRISPR-Cas9-based genomic editing.

Relevant Links

Graduate Program in Immunology

Graduate Program in Oral Health Sciences

Translational Oncology Program


Yu Leo Lei, DDS, PhD

Principal Investigator

Dr. Lei is an immunologist-oral pathologist. He is an Assistant Professor of Dentistry, Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine, University of Michigan School of Dentistry. He is a faculty member of the Translational Oncology Program, Head and Neck Oncology Program, Cancer Biology Program, the Graduate Program in Immunology, and the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Michigan School of Medicine. After his Ph.D. training at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, UNC-Chapel Hill, and residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, he completed his Head and Neck Oncology research fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Before he was recruited to U-M, he served as a research track faculty member at the Department of Otolaryngology University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Dr. Lei is certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology (ABOMP); and participates in the University of Michigan Oral Pathology Biopsy Service. He serves on the editorial board of the official journal of ABOMP, Oral Surgery Oral Medicine Oral Pathology Oral Radiology. He is a recipient of the Leon Barnes award from the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology and the NIH/NIDCR Dentist-Scientist Pathway to Independence Award. He is enthusiastically committed to teaching, molecular immunology and oral health research, and clinical service in the community.

Google Scholar profile


Coming soon.




Toktam Moghbeli, Lab Manager

Toktam is the lab manager of Dr. Lei Lab, Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine, School of Dentistry. She has her Masters of Science in Microbiology. She was working at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University and Biology Department at University of Pennsylvania. She was a Microbiologist at NSF International.

Denise Barrak, DDS Research Pathways Student

Denise is a DDS candidate for the class of 2019 at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Wayne State University, majoring in Nutrition and Food Science with a minor in Biology. She is volunteering in Dr. Lei’s lab as part of the Research Pathway Program. She has had several years of research experience in a molecular biology lab at Wayne State University, and is enthusiastic about immunology research.

Blake Heath

Blake is a PhD student within the Graduate Program in Immunology. He graduated from Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. Prior to graduate school, he held research positions at UT Southwestern, as a Research Technician in the Department of Pharmacology, and at Baylor College of Medicine / Texas Children's Hospital as a Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) Student.

Xiaobo Luo, DDS

Dr. Luo is a second-year PhD candidate in the State Key Laboratory of Oral Diseases, West China Hospital of Stomatology, Sichuan University. Presently, he is a joint-training PhD student in Dr. Lei's lab. He is interested in understanding how type 1 interferon signaling regulates the immunogenicity of oral cancer and exploring novel approaches to enhance host anti-tumor immunity.

Yee Sun Tan, PhD

Yee Sun graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Masters of Science, majoring in Microbiology. She obtained her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (Mentor: Dr Curt Civin). For her postdoctoral training, Yee Sun is currently pursuing research in Dr Lei’s laboratory to study the interactions between cancer and innate immune system at the molecular level, with the long term goal of developing effective immunotherapy against cancer.


Trini Roxas [2016]

Min Goo Kang [2016]

Xinyi (Sarah) Zhao, PhD [2015-2017]


Postdoctoral Fellows

We are looking for motivated postdoctoral research fellows. Our research group employs a spectrum of cutting-edge genomic, proteomic, and molecular immunology techniques to interrogate the interaction between cancer cells and immune cells. The candidate will participate in innovative projects with clear translational significance. This position benefits from outstanding interdisciplinary intellectual support from the School of Dentistry, U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, Translational Oncology Program at the North Campus Research Complex, and Graduate Program in Immunology. Individuals with expertise in Immunology or Cancer Biology are strongly encouraged to apply. Experiences with cancer mouse models or tumor immunology will be favorably considered. Interested candidates should submit a cover letter with a brief description of past research experiences and career goals, an up-to-date curriculum vitae, and contact information of three referees to Dr. Lei (e-mail:

Graduate Students

We are affiliated with the Graduate Program in Immunology, one of the 14 programs of PIBS, and the Oral Health Sciences PhD program. We have active projects to study tumor cell-immune cell interaction for rotation students, and welcome any inquiry regarding the project details.


Lei Lab of Translational Immunology
1600 Huron Parkway, Lab 2411
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
Phone: (734) 764-0003

University of Michigan Oral Pathology Biopsy Service
1011 N University Ave, G018
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Phone: (800) 358-1011