Ag Research Spotlight:
“I say every day, 'Maybe today I can find a new approach to improve the quality of a cancer patient's life.' That always makes me feel good.” –Xiaoqi Liu
The Ag Research Spotlight shines each month on an individual whose work reflects our commitment to the six strategic themes that guide Agricultural Research at Purdue. Our spotlight for May 2014 underscores the theme, “Utilizing molecular approaches to expand the frontiers of agriculture and life sciences.”
Xiaoqi Liu counts himself fortunate to have grown up in a “unique time” in China – a period following its Cultural Revolution in which his generation was encouraged to pursue a college education, particularly in science. From his rural home, Liu went to Peking University in Beijing to study chemistry and then to the Chinese Academy of Sciences for a master’s degree in biophysics. There he began some basic cancer research involving radiation. “I noticed a professor [at Washington State University in Pullman] who was a leader in the field, so I contacted him,” Liu recalls. “He saw potential and accepted me right away.” After earning a doctorate in biochemistry in 1998, Liu spent seven years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. He credits his achievement to two colleagues, at Washington State and Harvard: “Two Americans are my mentors but also my best American friends,” he says. “They were determined I would have a good career in cancer biology.” Liu came to Purdue in 2006.
Liu’s research goal is to identify novel approaches to increase the efficacy of chemotherapy for cancer treatment. His lab focuses specifically on an enzyme called Polo-like kinase 1 (Plk1). Using a combination of biochemistry, cell biology and mouse genetics, his team is dissecting the roles of Plk1 in the initiation, progression and metastasis of prostate and pancreatic cancer. The research has attracted funding from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and American Cancer Society, among others.
“Purdue is a very nice fit,” Liu says, citing his collaboration with colleagues in the Center for Cancer Research and Animal Sciences department. He also notes his graduate students’ contributions to the research: “My graduate students are self-motivated. I don’t push them, but I give them very, very interesting projects and tell them, ‘If you work hard, society will benefit from your discovery.’” He also thrives on interacting with his undergraduate students: “I tend to get excited and wake them up when I give early morning lectures!”
Outside of the lab, Liu enjoys walking or tennis with his wife and playing with their 3-year-old daughter. Every four or five years, he travels to his home country of China, where his parents still live.