Zhiwei Liu received his B.S. in preventive medicine from the Sun Yat-sen University, China, and his Ph.D. in epidemiology from the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden. He joined the Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch (IIB) as a postdoctoral fellow in 2016 and was promoted to research fellow in 2019. He was appointed to the position of tenure-track investigator in 2021. Dr. Liu has received numerous awards for his work, including the DCEG Fellowship Achievement Award, the DCEG Fellow Award for Research Excellence, the DCEG Intramural Research Award, and the NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence.
Dr. Liu studies the etiology and prevention of cancers caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV). He leads multi-disciplinary studies and develops international collaborations to address challenges in epidemiology in relation to infections and immune variation. His recent work focuses on 1) understanding EBV-based markers and their relationship to etiology and early detection of EBV-associated cancers; 2) implementing state-of-the-art tools to characterize genetic variation in EBV and cancer risk; 3) understanding the relationship between genetic variation in HBV and host genetics in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and their implications for disease intervention.
Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and Cancer Risk
EBV infection is associated with different types of cancers, such as nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), endemic Burkitt lymphoma (eBL), and extranodal NK/T-cell lymphoma (NKTCL). The underlying mechanisms to explain risk of developing specific EBV-related cancers have not been well characterized. Dr. Liu has conducted across-cancer comparisons to define strong/consistent viral, genetic, immunology, and other risk factors for EBV-related cancers. He applies a novel microarray that measures antibody responses to the entire EBV proteome to characterize patterns of antibody responses to EBV and their relationship with different EBV-related cancers.
Investigation of immune responses across the complete EBV proteome can provide both etiologic insight into markers of cancer risk and translational opportunities for cancer prevention. For example, based on the findings from NPC, Dr. Liu has utilized a new bead-based multiplex platform (Luminex assays) and developed a 13-marker panel that can potentially improve the predictive accuracy for NPC. His effort has led to promises to importantly alter and optimize NPC screening options in regions of the world with high disease burden.
Complementing his skills in EBV-related molecular/immunological studies, Dr. Liu is developing a novel research program in viral genetics. He is working with laboratory colleagues to optimize the pipeline to allow for high-quality whole-genome sequencing in tumor-saliva paired samples and to determine whether the causal EBV variants present in tumors can be successfully identified in alternative specimen types.
HBV and Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC)
To understand how host genetics contribute to HBV disease progression, Dr. Liu has focused on human leukocyte antigen (HLA) and HBV genetics. He has shown that heterozygote advantage within HLA could be part of the mechanisms explaining the HLA-liver disease association. His current studies have used the next-generation and third-generation sequencing technology to conduct whole HBV genome sequencing among chronic hepatitis B carriers. He is examining HBV genetic variants to understand the association between HBV quasispecies and risk of liver diseases. He also plans to conduct genome-to-genome analysis to understand the impact of the human immune systems on HBV and its associated outcomes.
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