"The Sontag Foundation Distinguished Scientist Award will provide me with the opportunity to extend my research. In addition, being a DSA recipient means being a family member of elite scientific minds. These opportunities will allow me to network and potentially establish future collaborations to answer fundamental biological questions in neural developmental biology and neuro-oncology."

- Dr. Cheng-Yu Lee

Academic Appointments

  • Associate Professor, Internal Medicine, Life Sciences Institute, University of Michigan

About DSA-Funded Research

Stem cells are progenitor cells that maintain their identity and developmental potential (self-renewal), and are capable of generating differentiated cell types essential for the physiological function of the organ. Self-renewal is also critical for tumorigenic cancer cells. Thus, how self-renewal is regulated is a central question in stem cell biology and cancer biology. Numerous studies have demonstrated that gene functions are highly conserved between flies and mammals and described a large array of powerful molecular genetic tools unique to flies. My laboratory uses fly neural stem cells (neuroblasts) as a model to discover genes that regulate neuroblast self-renewal during normal brain development and brain tumor formation.

Dr. Lee has recently identified a novel transcriptional suppressor dfezl that functions to inhibit neuroblast self-renewal and tumorigenesis in developing fly brains. Dfezl mutant neuroblasts exhibit excessive self-renewal to generate a large number of aberrant neuroblasts. Dfezl appears to function either downstream or independent of previously described cell fate determinants that segregate asymmetrically into either self-renewing neuroblasts or differentiating cells. The dfezl protein is expressed in neuroblasts, and is equally segregated into both daughter progeny suggesting that dfezl might function to suppress self-renewal in differentiating cells. Intriguingly, the oncogene myc becomes ectopically expressed in dfezl mutant brains raising the possibility the dfezl might suppress Myc. In this proposal, I will characterize the mechanisms by which dfezl promotes neuroblasts self-renewal, test if dfezl mutant neuroblasts are sufficient to function as tumor initiating cells, and examine the functions of mouse homologs of dfezl in neural stem cells.


"Dr. Lee is one of the most productive postdoctoral fellows I have ever had in my lab. He came in with a vision, executed his experiments flawlessly, published extensively, and now is continuing his stellar research in his own lab. There is no doubt that his creativity and research skills will lead to novel findings."

Chris Q. Doe, Ph.D.
University of Oregon
Institute of Neuroscience &
Institute of Molecular Biology

"Not many people take the bold new approaches that Cheng-Yu has taken to systematically address important new questions, still fewer extend their results across very different systems to understand the full scope of the insights they gain. For this reason, I expect that Cheng-Yu will change the field of stem cell biology."

Sean Morrison, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
Life Sciences Institute

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