Faculty Profile - University of Houston
Skip to main content

Faculty Profile

Wa XianWa Xian

Research Professor
Department of Biology and Biochemistry

Office: Science and Engineering Research Center, 4027
Contact: wxian@central.uh.edu - 860-480-1188

Education: Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard Medical School Brigham & Womenʼs Hospital; Postdoctoral Fellow, Baylor College of Medicine; Ph.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center University of Texas; B.A., Nankia University

Her laboratory is developing stem cell cloning technologies to address fundamental problems in regenerative medicine, chronic inflammatory diseases, and cancer. Xian’s entry into this field was the discoveries that the lung has a tremendous capacity for regeneration and that a p63/Krt+ stem cell orchestrates the formation of new alveoli. These findings relied of the use of sublethal doses of H1N1 influenza virus to impart 60% lung damage, the recovery from which was found to link to an explosive proliferation of p63/Krt5+ cells in the terminal bronchioles and their assembly of new alveoli.

Remarkably, cloned p63/Krt5+ stem cells from mice or humans readily incorporate into acutely damaged lungs to form alveoli, setting the stage for regenerative medicine for chronic lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, asthma, post-COVID interstitial lung disease, and cystic fibrosis.

Perhaps the most profound discovery arising from this cloning technology is that chronic lung diseases are linked to a profound and condition-specific heterogeneity of the p63/Krt5+ stem cells, including the massive expansion of variants that separately drive neutrophilic inflammation, fibrosis, and excessive mucin production. These potentially pathogenic variants preexist at low levels in normal lung and likely represent features of previously unrecognized innate immune mechanism towards pathogens, but become pathogenic when their numbers remain high. It is likely that future therapies in these chronic inflammatory diseases will target factors secreted by these cells or the variants themselves.

Lastly, the ability of this technology to clone stem cells from epithelial cancers is providing a new approach to the mitigation of these diseases.

  • Wang S, Rao W, Hoffman A, Lin J, Li J, Lin T, Liew AA, Vincent M, Mertens TCJ, Karmouty-Quintana H, Crum CP, Metersky ML, Schwartz DA, Davies PJA, Stephan C, Jyothula SSK, Sheshadri A, Suarez EE, Huang HJ, Engelhardt JF, Dickey BF, Parekh KR, McKeon F & Xian W. Cloning a profibrotic stem cell variant in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Sci Transl Med. 2023 Apr 26;15(693):eabp9528
  • Rao W, Wang S, Duleba M, Niroula S, Goller K, Xie J, Mahalingam R, Neupane R, Liew AA, Vincent M, Okuda K, O'Neal WK, Boucher RC, Dickey BF, Wechsler ME, Ibrahim O, Engelhardt JF, Mertens TCJ, Wang W, Jyothula SSK, Crum CP, Karmouty-Quintana H, Parekh KR, Metersky ML, McKeon F & Xian W. (2020). Regenerative metaplastic clones in COPD lung drive inflammation and fibrosis. Cell 181, 848-864.
  • Zuo W, Wu DZ, Zhang T, Guan SP, Liew AA, Yamamoto Y, Lessard M, Crum CP, Xian W & McKeon F. (2015). p63+/Krt5+ Distal Airway Stem Cells are Essential for Lung Regeneration. Nature 517, 616–620.
  • Wang X, Yamamoto Y, Wilson LH, Zhang T, Howitt B, Farrow MA, Kern F, Ning G, Yue Hong, Khor CC, Chevalier B, Bertrand D, Nagarajan N, Sylvester FA, Hyams JS, Devers T, Bronson R, Lacy DB, Ho KY, Crum CP, McKeon F & Xian W. (2015). Cloning and variation of ground state intestinal stem cells. Nature. 522, 173-178
  • Kumar PA, Hu Y, Yamamoto Y, Neo BN, Wei TS, Mu D, Sun Y, Lim SJ, Dagher R, Zielonka EM, Wang DY, Lim B, Chow VT, Crum CP, Xian W & McKeon F. (2011). Distal airway stem cells render alveoli in vitro and during lung regeneration following H1N1 influenza infection. Cell 147:525-538.
  • Wang X, Ouyang H, Yamamoto Y, Kumar PA, Tay SW, Dagher R, Vincent M, Lu X, Ho YK, Crum CP, Xian W, McKeon F. (2011). Residual embryonic cells as precursors of a Barrett’s-like metaplasia. Cell 145:1023-1035.

Honors & Awards

  • 2019 - Rivkin Ovarian Cancer Pilot Award
  • 2017 - U.S. Dept. of Defense Ovarian Cancer Academy Award
  • 2016 - Presidential Collaborative Research Award, University of Texas
  • 2016 - AGA-Medtronic Research and Development Pilot Award in Technology, American Gastroenterology Association Research Foundation
  • 2015 - CPRIT Rising Stars Scholarship, State of Texas
  • 2012 - Merck Excellent Mentorship Award
  • 2011 - Bedside and Bench Award on Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer, Singapore National Medical Research Council
  • 2002 - U.S. Department of Defense Postdoctoral Traineeship Award in Breast Cancer Research
  • 2002 - The Amgen Award in Basic Science Research, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, UT-Houston
  • 2002 - Research Achievement Award, Genes & Development Graduate Program, UT-Houston

Organizations, Outreach, Boards, Memberships

  • 2011-Present: International Society for Stem Cell Research
  • 2010-Present: American Thoracic Society
  • 2010-Present: American Gastroenterology Society
  • 2005-Present: American Society of Cell Biology
  • 2003-Present: American Association for Cancer Research
  • 2003-Present: Woman in Cancer Research Association

Administrative Responsibilities

  • Member, Promotions and Tenure Committee, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston
  • Member, Admission Committee, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 2017-2018
  • Member, The Jackson Laboratory NCI-designated Cancer Center, 2013-2014
  • Member, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, Biological Resource Centre, A*STAR, Singapore, 2011-2012
  • Member, Postdoctoral Fellow Career Development Committee, Institute of Medical Biology, A*STAR, Singapore, 2009-2012
  • Member, Biosafety Management Committee, Institute of Medical Biology, A*STAR, Singapore, 2009-2012