The Li Laboratory is focused on the etiology, prevention, and therapy of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), and extraintestinal manifestations of IBD.

Our team is interested in studying environmental, bacterial, and epigenetic contributions to the development of colorectal cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and IBD-induced heart diseases, using diverse research tools and techniques that include next-generation sequencing, global proteomics, real-time molecular interactions, and humanized disease models.  These studies have found that early-life inflammation alters gut microbiota and sensitizes the gut epithelium, rendering the host susceptible to an aggravated immune response, a hallmark of IBD, when exposed to an additional inflammation later in life.  We also found that gut microbiota imbalances in IBD epigenetically disrupt the gut/heart cross-talk, resulting in cardiac diseases such as heart failure.  Our mechanistic studies have identified several potential therapeutic targets, including TRAF6, MMP7, and BDNF.  Furthermore, we have developed a number of small molecule inhibitors against these proteins, which are undergoing laboratory and animal testing in various preclinical models of IBD and colorectal cancer.