Pattern Recognition Receptors (PPRs) constitute the first line of defense against “non-self” antigens, which are encountered during microbial infections and cancer development. With the characterization of new PRR families, such as Toll-like receptors (TLRs), NOD-like receptors (NLRs), RIG-I-like receptors (RLRs) and cGAS-STING-mediated cytoplasmic DNA-sensing molecules, novel regulatory mechanisms of PRR signaling are rapidly emerging as main cancer immune escape mechanisms. We pioneered in the identification of novel PRR regulators. Our laboratory has developed a unique collection of toolkits in the following areas.

  1. Mechanisms Regulating Cancer Immune Escape Emerging evidence suggests that PRR not only detect molecular structures associated with pathogens but those linked to cellular and tissue damage. Due to increased genome instability in cancer cells and chemoradiation therapy, PRR-mediated sensing of cytoplasmic DNA, a classic danger signal for cellular damage, triggers the production of chemokines that recruit immune cells to the tumor bed. But this process is frequently suppressed by squamous cell carcinomas, leading to immune escape. We are among the first to show that oncogenic signaling in squamous cell carcinomas suppresses PRRs as a key mechanism driving T-cell exclusion.
  2. Immunogenomics Approaches to Identify Cold Cancer With the emerging combinatorial strategies for cold cancer, precise identification of this group of tumors is essential for the selection of optimal treatment protocols. In collaboration with a computational geneticist, we have developed a robust and novel immune-cell deconvolution machine learning tool to map the landscape of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes.
  3. Immune Engineering Strategies to Sensitize Cold Cancer to Immune Checkpoint Blockade Cold cancers are featured by insufficient elicitation of tumor-specific T-cell immunity. In order to expand the tumor-specific CD8+ T-cell repertoire, our group utilizes advanced nanotechnologies to deliver and optimize the intra-lesional immune microenvironment. For example, we have shown that our nano-vaccines can sensitize cold tumors to immunotherapy, and a combination of nano-vaccines with checkpoint blockade leads to significantly expanded tumor-specific effector T cells, reduced T-cell exhaustion and better tumor control.

Relevant Links

Graduate Program in Immunology

Graduate Program in Oral Health Sciences

Rogel Cancer Center


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.




Wang Gong, DDS

Dr. Gong is a PhD candidate in the State Key Laboratory of Oral Diseases, West China Hospital of Stomatology, Sichuan University. He is a joint-training PhD student in Dr. Lei's laboratory of translational immunology. His research interest is to identify novel oncogenic signaling that leads to oral cancer and oral pre-malignancy immune escape.

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.

Xin Lin, PhD

Dr. Lin is a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Lei's laboratory. He graduated from Peking University Health Science Center with a Bachelor of Science degree in Basic Medical Science. Then, he received his Ph.D. degree in Immunology from Peking University Health Science Center. Xin is interested in understanding how oral epithelial dysplasia and oral cancer escape from immunosurveillance by depriving metabolic support from immune cells. He will utilize genetic modeling and a spectrum of molecular immunology techniques to identify the underpinnings of tumor resistance to immunotherapy.

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.

Jiaqian "Leah" Li, Lab Manager

Leah is the lab manager of our group. She received her Bachelor of Science in Life Sciences from Peking University, where she conducted research projects on the interaction between the type I interferon pathway and inflammasome activation. Leah is working with the team to characterize novel mechanisms underpinning oral cancer immune escape and to develop immune engineering approaches that sensitize cold tumors to immunotherapy.



Trini Roxas [2016]

Min Goo Kang [2016]


Denise Barrak [2017-2018]


Shuyun Ge, DDS, PhD [2017-2018]


Yee Sun Tan, PhD [2016-2019]


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

Toktam Moghbeli [2016-2019]


Postdoctoral Fellows

How to Apply

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. Yu Leo Lei (e-mail:


A postdoctoral research fellow position is immediately available at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor to work on an interdisciplinary project in the areas of cancer immunology, immunometabolism and cancer biology. Our research group employs a spectrum of cutting-edge genetic and advanced immune engineering approaches to identify novel mechanisms driving cancer immune escape and sensitize cold cancers to immune checkpoint blockade. The candidate will participate in innovative projects with clear translational significance. Our laboratory is located at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center at the North Campus Research Complex. Individuals with expertise in Immunology, Genetics, Metabolism, or Cancer Biology are strongly encouraged to apply. Experiences with cancer mouse models or cancer immunology will be favorably considered.

Required Qualifications

We are seeking a highly self-motivated research fellow with a recent Ph.D. degree and a background in any of the following areas of research: Immunology, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Metabolism, or Cell Biology.

Work Locations

This position is located at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center at North Campus Research Complex (1600 Huron Parkway, Ann Arbor, MI 48109).

Additional Information

Ann Arbor is a popular destination in the midwest, offering a unique blend of city sophistication and small town charm that appeals to both students and professionals, singles and families. Ann Arbor is consistently voted one of the best places to live in the United States by magazines and newspapers. With its excellent schools, wide variety of sporting and arts activities including seasonal festivals, and acclaimed restaurants, Ann Arbor is said to have the amenities of a city many times its size.

Background Screening

The University of Michigan conducts background checks on all job candidates upon acceptance of a contingent offer and may use a third-party administrator to conduct background checks. Background checks will be performed in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Mission Statement

The mission of the University of Michigan is to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future. The University of Michigan is committed to foster learning, creativity and productivity, and to support the vigorous exchange of ideas and information, not only in the classroom but in the workplace by: -Creating a work environment in which people treat each other with respect and dignity, regardless of roles, responsibilities or differences. -Providing support, direction and resources enabling us to accomplish the responsibilities of our jobs and to reach the goals that are set for professional and personal growth.

Application Deadline

Job openings are posted for a minimum of seven calendar days. This job may be removed from posting boards and filled any time after the minimum posting period has ended.

U-M EEO/AA Statement

The University of Michigan is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.

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