Lei Lab

Translational Immunology Research To Improve Oral Health

A Member of the Cancer Moonshot℠ IOTN

Rogel Cancer Center Graduate Program in Immunology Cancer Moonshot



"We are a member of the Cancer Moonshot℠ Immuno-Oncology Translational Network (IOTN). We are dedicated to helping patients with high-risk oral leukoplakia and oral cancer. We welcome inquiries for opportunities for getting involved in our translational and clinical research programs."

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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


Graduate Program in Immunology

Graduate Program in Oral Health Sciences

Rogel Cancer Center


Yu Leo Lei, DDS, PhD
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Yu Leo Lei, DDS, PhD
Principal Investigator

leiyuleo@umich.edu | 734-936-2565

Dr. Lei is a pathologist-immunologist who actively provides service to many institutional, foundation, and national committees, such as the Rogel Cancer Center Research Committee, the Steering Committee of the NCI Cancer Moonshot Immuno-Oncology Translational Network, and the NCI PREVENT panel. His group pioneers the identification of oncogenic and viral inhibitors of the innate immune system. I am a recipient of the NIH Rising Stars award. His basic and translational immunoprevention program focuses on the regulation of Pattern Recognition Receptors-mediated type-I interferon response, with an eye towards the engineering approaches to restore innate immune sensing.

He is an Associate Professor (with tenure) at the University of Michigan. He is a faculty member of the PIBS Cancer Biology Program, Immunology Program, and Cellular and Molecular Biology Program. After his Ph.D. training at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, UNC-Chapel Hill with Dr. Jenny Ting, and residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), he completed his Head and Neck Oncology research fellowship at the UPMC Cancer Center with Dr. Robert Ferris.

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 Journal of Dental Research and 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, immunology research, and service in the community.

Google Scholar Profile



We are seeking a highly motivated postdoctoral research fellow to join our research laboratory at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center (UMRCC) at North Campus Research Complex (NCRC). We are a translational immunology group that has made pioneering discovery on the mechanisms driving cancer resistance to immunotherapy. We are a member of the national Immuno-Oncology Translational Network. The NIH funded positions will address significant questions at the interface of cancer immunotherapy and metabolism. Our research group employs a spectrum of cutting-edge genetic, single-cell, and immune engineering approaches to identify novel mechanisms driving cancer immune escape and sensitize cold cancers to immune checkpoint blockade. Our laboratory is well-equipped with close collaborations with scientists across various disciplines.

NCRC is a major U-M initiative that is providing a platform for highly accomplished investigators to make transformational advances in oncology. UMRCC at NCRC currently comprises 30 investigators, 19 of whom are located in Building 520. UMRCC at NCRC will ultimately include upwards of 40 investigators representing 10 schools and institutes across the University, eight of these 10 are ranked in the top ten nationally. UMRCC at NCRC researchers are characterized by a track record of high impact discoveries, significant levels of NIH peer-reviewed funding, a demonstrated commitment to team science, an entrepreneurial spirit, potential for interaction with biotechnology hubs at the NCRC and a demonstrated dedication to translating basic research findings into clinical applications.

The successful candidate should be a recent Ph.D. graduate with a degree in Immunology, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Metabolism, or Cell and Molecular Biology. Individuals with expertise in mouse models or immunology are strongly encouraged to apply.

We are accepting students from PIBS and Oral Health Science PhD programs. We welcome any inquiries regarding rotations and collaborations.


lei lab group
lei lab group
lei lab group
lei lab group
blake heath and friend
blake heath presentation


Luke Broses

Luke Broses


Luke Broses is the laboratory manager and a Michigan native who received his Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Michigan State University. His experience in translational oncology is diverse as he has worked with multiple cancer types using a variety cell culture and in vivo models. Luke is currently working on models of oral carcinogenesis, prevention, and tumor immunity. He is also working on improving vaccine immunity in vulnerable populations using animal models.

Wang Gong, DDS

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 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.

Kohei Okuyama, DDS, PhD

Kohei Okuyama, DDS, PhD


Dr. Okuyama is a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Lei’s lab of translational immunology. He received his Bachelor’s in Dentistry from Tohoku University, Japan, and later received his Ph.D. in Department of Maxillofacial Surgery from Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU), Japan. After Ph.D., he worked as an Assistant Professor and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon in the Department of Clinical Oral Oncology, Nagasaki University, Japan. He, then, came back to TMDU as a Project Assistant professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. His research interest is to understand the establishment of immune tolerance of transforming epithelial cells as a function of time. He will utilize advanced engineering approaches to restore innate immune sensing of cancers.

hulya taner

Hülya Taner


Hülya is a DDS/PhD student in the Oral Health Science program at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, she was a post-baccalaureate researcher in the Oral Immunity and Inflammation Section at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). This invaluable research experience motivated her to pursue her graduate training in the Lei lab. Currently, she plans to contribute to the field of immuno-oncology by exploring how oral cancers evade host immune responses.



Trini Roxas [2016]

Min Goo Kang [2016]

Tianqi "Jimmy" Wei [2018]
DDS student at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine


Denise Barrak [2017-2018]


Shuyun Ge, DDS, PhD [2017-2018]


Yee Sun Tan, PhD [2016-2019]
Scientist, Bristol Myers Squibb

Xiaobo Luo, DDS [2016-2019]
Faculty of Oral Medicine, Sichuan University West China College of Dental Medicine


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

Toktam Moghbeli [2016-2019]
Associate Scientist, Bristol Myers Squibb

Jiaqian "Leah" Li [2019-2021]
Graduate Student, University of Michigan Cell and Developmental Biology Program


Lei Lab of Translational Immunology
1600 Huron Parkway, Lab 2411
Ann Arbor 48105, MI

Phone: (734) 764-0003

University of Michigan Oral Pathology Biopsy Service
1011 N University Ave, G018
Ann Arbor 48109, MI

Phone: (800) 358-1011