About the Lab

The long-term objective of the Chen laboratory is to identify novel mechanisms that can be targeted for developing innovative treatments for cancer and other recalcitrant human diseases. Their research focus for two decades has been on ubiquitin-like (Ubl) modifications, the regulation of which influences major oncogenic pathways and anti-tumor immunity. Even though more than 1000 enzymes/proteins are involved, Ubl modifications have been poorly addressed by FDA approved drugs, and thus are an untapped resource for new therapeutic development. The Chen laboratory has made major contributions to the discovery of new chemical and biochemical approaches to target Ubl modifications and to the elucidation of small ubiquitin-like modification (SUMO)-mediated cellular regulatory mechanisms. Her research program is transdisciplinary involving collaborations with other academic laboratories, clinicians and biotech industry.

Join the lab

We have several postdoctoral and predoctoral positions available. Please visit this page for more information.

Meet the Team

Kevin Li, M.D.

Surgical Resident
Originally from New Jersey, Kevin attended Rice University and graduated with a BS in Biochemistry. During that time, he worked in a structural biochemistry lab, studying protein structures at Baylor College of Medicine. He went on to attain his MD at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas. He spent time studying unique metabolic characteristics in non-small cell lung cancer and the effects of the local tumor microenvironment on cancer metabolism. In 2019 he started his General Surgery residency at UCSD. He is currently working jointly with Yuan Chen’s and Andrew Lowy’s labs to investigate SUMOylation as a mechanistic target for pancreatic adenocarcinoma and appendix cancers.

Neranjan Mohottige Don, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow
Neranjan's research focuses on investigating the role of SUMOylation inhibition in T cell mediated antitumor response. Neranjan obtained B.S. in Molecular biology and Biochemistry from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and a M.S in Molecular biology from the University of Hertfordshire, U.K. His Ph.D. (Jeju National University, South Korea) focused on understanding the fish immune system. He had postdoctoral training at the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope on Androgen signaling in T cell function and prostate cancer development.

Tae Mi Yoon

Visiting Scholar
Dr. Yoon is a visiting scholar on sabbatical leave in the Chen Lab. Her clinical speciality is Surgical Oncology of Head and neck cancer and thyroid cancer. She obtained M.D and Ph.D. in Chonnam National University in South Korea. She is currently a Professor in Chonnam National University Medical School in South Korea. Her research focus is adjuvant NK cell therapy, and molecular targets involved to chemoradioresistance in head and neck cancer. In Chen’s lab, she is focusing to the role of SUMOlyation inhibition in head and neck cancer.

Debbie Chen

Graduate Student
Debbie is a Ph.D. student from the Department of Bioengineering at UCSD. Originally from Taiwan, Debbie attended University of Washington and graduated with a BS in Bioengineering. She is focusing on the development of a novel therapeutic platform to target tumors using immunotherapy.

Nikhil Chilakapati

Undergraduate Student
Nikhil is a 3rd-year undergraduate student at UCSD majoring in Bioengineering: Biotechnology. He is a research assistant in our lab using mouse models and other techniques to help study the role of SUMOylation inhibition in the antitumor response.

Madeleine Fass

Undergraduate Student
Madeleine is a first-year undergraduate student at UCSD majoring in Cellular and
Molecular Biology. She is a research assistant in our lab, focusing on SUMOylation inhibition
and its relation to anti-tumor response.

Terry Huang

Graduate Student
Terry is currently a Chemistry graduate student at UCSD. After finishing high school in Taiwan, they obtain their B.S. degree in biochemistry with minor in computer science at University of California, San Diego. They conduct undergraduate research in Komives lab, focusing on data analysis of disordered transactivation domain of transcription factor and assist in expression NFkB for FRET experiments. Their current project in the lab right now focused on the binding kinetic of small molecules to Ubr1 and crystallization and structure determination of Ubr1 bound to small molecules.

Yixuan Kuang

Graduate Student
Yixuan is a bio-chemistry grad student in Yuan Chen lab. He currently studies immune therapy combinations to treat head and neck cancer.

He enjoys golfing, weightlifting, and watching films after lab.

Bailey Lucich

Undergraduate Student
Bailey is a 2nd-year undergraduate student at UCSD studying Human Biology. She asists the lab with mouse model, genome typing and flow cytometry experiments.

Leonie Ren

Graduate Student
Leonie a biochemistry graduate student at UCSD. She conducted her undergraduate research on the mechanism of arginine transporter CAT-1 in regulating Tfh/Tfr balance and promoting the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis. She is currently
working on the role of SUMOylation inhibition in pancreatic cancer liver metastasis.

Kathryn Trulock

Administrative Assistant

An outing with the lab last year!

Lab Alumni

Ph.D. and postdoctoral trainee alumni

Tharindumala Abeywardana, Ph.D. Scientist III at Thermo Fisher Scientific
Xuanjun Ai, Ph.D. Professor, Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Grace Aldana-Masangkay, Ph.D.Scientist, Fulgent Genetics
Aileen Alontaga, Ph.D. Research Scientist, Moffitt Cancer Center
Maria V. Botuyan, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Mayo Clinic
Chih-Hong Chen, Ph.D. Staff Scientist, City of Hope
Li Du, Ph.D. Research Assistant Professor, City of Hope
Nona Ehyaei, Ph.D. Scientist, Lycia Therapeutics
Abdelfattah Faouzi Scientist, DTx Pharma
Suhkmann Kim, Ph.D. Professor of Chemistry, Pusan National University, Korea
James Lee Research Associate, Scale Biosciences
Pei-chuan Li, Ph.D. Senior Scientist, Simcere Innovation
Baozong Li, Ph.D. Study Director, Crown Bioscience, Inc
Yifei Li, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow, NCI, NIH
Yi-Jia Li, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, City of Hope
Donghai Lin, Ph.D. Professor, Xiamen University, China
Ikenna Madu, Ph.D. Senior Manager-Strategic alliances and Business development Oregon Health and Science University
Kristen McCue, Ph.D. Technical Director, University of Texas
Andrew Namanja, Ph.D. Principal Research Scientist, AbbVie
Jing Song, Ph.D. Research Director, BeiGene Inc.
Yang Su, Ph.D.
Nicole Thomas, Ph.D. Senior Scientist, Mirati Therapeutics
Khue Truong, Ph.D. Principal Scientist, Gensun Biopharma
Jianghai Wang, Ph.D. Senior Scientist, Boston Biochem
Thomas Wilkinson, Ph.D. Consultant
Yate-Ching Yuan, Ph.D. Director of the Bioinformatic Core Facility, City of Hope
Ziming Zhang, Ph.D., Abzena Inc, Pennsylvania
Linyang Zhu, Ph.D. Research Specialist, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign