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
U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center
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

The Lei laboratory is interested in the identification of central pathways driving cancer immune escape. Head and Neck Cancers employ a complex set of mechanisms to dampen their immunogenicity, and their response rates to neoadjuvant immune checkpoint blockade are less than 20%. We have developed fully integrated biochemical, pre-clinical, clinical, and bioengineering approaches to understand the mechanisms driving cancer resistance to immunotherapy and develop innovative therapeutic nano-vaccines that reinvigorate immune detection of cold tumors. We have three major research directions.

  1. Mechanisms Regulating Cancer Immune Escape: Pattern Recognition Receptors (PRRs) are central for the immune system to detect "non-self" such as cancer. We are interested in characterizing the role of novel PRR regulators in cancer immunogenicity, using both high throughput and gene-targeted approaches.
  2. Nano-vaccines to Sensitize Cold Cancer to Immune Checkpoint Receptor Blockade: In order to expand the tumor-specific CD8+ T-cell repertoire, our group utilizes advanced nanotechnologies to deliver and optimize different anti-tumor vaccine formulations. We are interested in vaccine design, manufacture, pre-clinical validation, mechanistic analysis, and clinical translation.
  3. Clinical Research: We are interested in the identification of novel biomarkers for tissue immune infiltrate and patient prognosis.

Core techniques: Head and Neck Cancer in vivo modeling, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes profiling, effector T-cell function assays, clinical research, immunohistochemistry, protein biochemistry, molecular cloning, flow cytometry, lentiviral shRNA delivery, CRISPR-Cas9 genomic editing, retroviral gene expression, confocal imaging, transcriptome profiling (RNA-Seq), machine learning, quantitative mass spectrometry, mass cytometry (CyTOF) and nanotechnology.


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.