Introducing Dr. Jianguo Liu

Introducing Dr. Jianguo Liu

Introducing Dr. Jianguo Liu

My contact with medicine began after I enrolled in medical school. Like most medical students following graduation, I decided to stay in a medical school hospital to start my internship and residency. During that period of time I discovered my interest in basic science, especially in autoimmune diseases and cancers.

I often wondered why our immune system sometimes failed to prevent and control the diseases. Later on, in order to gain more basic science knowledge, I began to pursue my Master Degree of Science in Internal Medicine. The focus of the study was on the effects of vascular endothelial cell-released factors.

This was my first experience studying the vascular-related factors and probably the reason why I start to study vasculitis now. After becoming an attending physician, along with increasing interests in basic science during clinical practice, I decided to pursue a scientific career, and then enrolled in a PhD program in immunology at Beijing Medical University (Now known as Peking University Medical Science Center).

My scientific career started with my PhD thesis in the laboratory of Dr. Mingzhe Chen and Dr. Xian Wang at the Vascular Medicine Institute of Beijing Medical University. Drs. Chen and Wang are pioneers in the study of the role of a short neuro-peptide, calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP), in regulation of the immune system. When I joined their group, the research was focused on how the nervous system regulated the immune system, in particular about how CGRP regulated the pro-inflammatory cytokine expression in macrophages.

My project was to figure out whether pro-inflammatory signals such as interleukin-12 (IL-12) and Nitric Oxide were affected by CGRP derived from the nerve cells. I found that CGRP inhibited LPS-induced IL-12 production through the cAMP-PKA signal transduction pathway. Another finding during that period of time was that CGRP also inhibited Nitric Oxide production in LPS-treated macrophages through inhibition of the Inducible Nitric Oxide Synthesis (iNOS). These data formed the basis of my PhD thesis that was approved by the committee, and later published in international journals.

During my PhD study, I realized that there was a huge scientific and technological gap between China and more developed countries. I decided to pursue my scientific career in the United States to learn the most advanced knowledge and technologies. Initially, I was interested in studying innate immunity and found Dr. Xiaojing Ma, an expert on IL-12 gene regulation.

Since joining the laboratory of Dr. Ma as a postdoctoral fellow in 2000, my projects were to study the molecular mechanisms governing the expression of cytokines and chemokines during innate and adaptive immune responses. I first started out by studying the molecular mechanisms of IFN-g- and LPS-mediated IL-12 p35 gene expression.  We were the first group to identify that IL-12 p35 and p40 subunits were differentially regulated by interferon regulatory factor-1 (IRF-1), namely IRF-1 mainly regulated IL-12 p35 gene transcription but not the p40 gene. This is a significant finding since the p35 unit is only utilized by IL-12 while p40 is shared by both IL-23 and IL-12. Therefore, targeting IRF-1 could be developed as a way to specifically target IL-12, but not IL-23.

Subsequently, we have demonstrated that the balance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines is important for homeostasis. Imbalance of these two kinds of cytokine can lead to diseases such as autoimmune disorders like Churg-Strauss Syndrome (CSS). Since 2000, my studies on transcriptional regulation of IL-12 family cytokines, IL-10 and CCL5 have resulted in 20 publications, with majority of them have been published in high impact journals like Immunity and Journal of Immunology, etc. In 2004, I was promoted to an Instructor and to a research assistant professor later at Weill Cornell Medical College.

The training experiences during that period of time at Cornell have taught me a great deal about appreciating the broader context of scientific findings and not just the details. I realized that my analysis of the molecular characteristics of IL-12 and IL-10 gene regulation was only one part of the interactive and dynamic process that the immune system represents. The interplay between pathogens and the immune apparatus, and how this interplay relates to autoimmune diseases, is especially fascinating. While pursuing these interests, I began to become familiar with the immunologic field and began to put things into proper perspective to generate novel scientific ideas, formulate feasible plans and execute them in a focused way for optimal efficiency and impact.

My research proposal represents a significant expansion of the work that I have been engaged in the past few years. Meanwhile, I have also learned the skills of how to manage a laboratory in an efficient way. After having these solid training, I started looking for a faculty position to pursue an independent scientific career. Recently, I have joined the faculty of Saint Louis University as a tenure-track assistant professor.

My career goal is to develop a successful academic laboratory where I can work to understand thoroughly the physiological role and molecular regulation of immunomodulatory molecules such as IL-12 family cytokines and IL-10 in autoimmune diseases, and to discover new molecules that may be targeted for therapies of immune disorders.

I love science and enjoy doing research. The most fascinating area of research is the novelty and unknown feature of nature. The more I learn, the more I need to know. The discovery of one mechanism of how immune cell works always brings me to the next level which will bring me closer to the true nature of the disease.  As a physician scientist, I believe that the advancement of basic science will give rise to better understanding of the disease and lead to breakthrough in treatments that can effectively cure patients. There is a long way to go from bench to bedside. I would like to make my contribution to it. I am looking forward to entering a new stage of my career and developing a stronger relationship with the vasculitis community.