Yu (Leo) Lei, D.D.S., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Dentistry, Dept. of Periodontics and Oral Medicine
Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery
Translational Oncology Program and Distributed Health Technologies
Accepting Students


Dr. Lei is an immunologist-pathologist. He is an Assistant Professor of Dentistry, Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine, School of Dentistry, and Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, School of Medicine. He is a faculty member of the Translational Oncology Program, U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology (ABOMP), and 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. After receiving his PhD degree at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, UNC-Chapel Hill, and residency training at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, he completed his Head and Neck Oncology research training at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Research Interests

Our laboratory is interested in the molecular mechanisms regulating cancer cell-immune cell interaction. Cancer cells employ a complex set of machinery to modulate their immunogenicity, which underlies their response to of immunotherapy. In order to better understand these mechanisms, our group employs both high throughput screening methods and CRISPR-Cas9-based lentiviral system to interrogate novel pathways, which bear translational potential in classifying tumors into high immunogenic and low immunogenic groups. Specifically we have two major directions: 

 1. Facilitated by quantitative genomics and proteomics approaches, we are able to identify novel proteins that regulate type 1 interferon (IFN-I) signaling. We are interested in the regulatory network of cytoplasmic Pattern Recognition Receptors (PRR) that modulate IFN-I signatures. We are investigating the roles of novel IFN-I-regulating proteins in cancer cell response to immunotherapy, and exploring surrogate biomarkers that are associated with anti-tumor immune response. 

 2. A large family of evolutionarily conserved proteins, NLR (Nucleotide binding domain, lots of Leucine rich Repeats containing proteins, also known as NOD-like Receptors), play fundamental roles in regulating inflammation, autophagy, and cell death. We are studying how NLRs regulate cancer cell immunogenicity. 

 Core techniques: Head and Neck Cancer in vivo modeling, protein biochemistry, molecular cloning, flow cytometry, lentiviral shRNA delivery, retroviral gene expression, confocal imaging, transcriptome profiling (RNA-Seq), quantitative mass spectrometry, and CRISPR-Cas9-based genomic editing.


Research Opportunities for Rotating Students

We have active projects to study tumor cell-immune cell interaction for rotation students, and welcome any inquiry regarding the project details.