Li, Wei Ph.D.

Faculty Director of Shared Instrument Facility

MEMPHIS TN 381630000
Tel: (901) 448-7532


  • Ph.D., Columbia University in the City of New York, Chemistry
  • Leave for US before graduating, Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chemical Physics
  • B.S., University of Science & Technology of China, Chemical Physics

Research in the Li Lab

The research in our lab is highly multi-disciplinary and often involves collaboration with other labs. Currently research in our group broadly focuses on the following three areas:

1. Discovery of novel therapeutic agent for melanoma. Melanoma is the most deadly skin cancer and its incidents are rising rapidly in the world. While early stage melanoma can be cured by surgical removal, once metastasized, it is very difficult to treat and the median survival is only a few months. Working with Dr. Duane Miller in our department, our group aims to design and synthesize novel small molecules inhibiting certain validated drug targets. One of the targets is the colchicine binding site in tubulin. Tubulin is a well validated target with at least three distinct binding sites for drugs to interact: the paclitaxel binding site (e.g., Taxol, epothilones), the vinblastine binding sites (e.g., Vinblastine, Vincristine), and the colchicine binding site. Techniques used in our lab include molecular modeling, organic synthesis, in vitro and in vivo biological assay, and nanotechnology based drug delivery approaches by incorporating certain peptides to target receptors that are over expressed by cancer cells, in order to reduce potential toxicity associated with systematic drug administrations. Computer aided drug screening and design are heavily used in this area of research.
2. Discovery of novel vitamin D analogs as potential therapeutic agents. The importance of sufficient vitamin D (such as Calciferol) in human bodies has been well recognized. Vitamin D have broad benefits to human health, including bone formation, cancer prevention, and anti-inflammation effects. However, the use of existing vitamin Ds and their analogs suffer from a severe side effect called hypercalcemia (elevated levels of calcium in blood stream) which could result in calcification of soft tissues, organ failure or even death. Working with Dr. Slominski, Dr. Miller and other researchers, we are identifying new biologically active metabolites of vitamin D and chemically synthesize them. 
3. Discovery of new small molecules interrupting protein-protein interactions, particular the inhibitors of apoptosis proteins (IAPs).
For more information about the group including recent publications, please visit our lab homepage.

Postdoc and PhD Positions are available

Postdoc Position Available Immediately:

A postdoc position is immediately available to work on the biological aspects of small molecule drug discovery projects targeting tubulin polymerization or protein-protein interactions. This position will be supported by grants from NIH, and is expected to last 4+ years. The lab focuses on and offers opportunities for small molecule drug discovery. The candidate will have a PhD or MD in cancer research, with demonstrated experience with good publication records as the first author or equivalent. Essential skills include various in vitro and in vivo biological assays to determine the potency and efficacy of small molecules in cancer cells, Western blots, flow cytometry, RT-PCR, xenograft models, and other related cancer biology techniques. Strong motivation, the ability to work independently, and results oriented are desirable. Interested applicants should send a summary of research experience, a CV, and contact information for three references to Dr. Wei Li at More information about the research in our group can be found at


PhD Student Positions for Fall 2016 Admission:

We currently have opening for PhD students for the Fall 2016 admission. Students will be either in the medicinal chemistry track focusing on organic synthesis of small molecules, or in the bioanalytical/translational science track focusing on cancer biology (in vitro and in vivo biological studies, mechanistic studies for our new compounds). Full tuition waiver and health insurance will be provided with the admission to the program, and a generous stipend (currently $24,000 per year) will be provided for all students. All drug discovery projects in the lab are usually interdisciplinary and involves collaborations with other labs, and thus students have ample opportunities to interact and learn from other aspects of the research. Students who has significant research experience in the respective area after the B.S. degree are preferred. Strong commitment to biomedical research, good work ethics and mature personality are desired. Interested applicant should submit formal applications to UTHSC graduate admission:

My Current CV

Research Keywords

medicinal chemistry; small molecule drug discovery; tubulin inhibitors targeting the colchicine binding site; noncalcemic vitamin D analogs for inflammation; analytical chemistry; chemical biology; IAP inhibitors

Professional Experience

  • 1992-1994      Graduate Research Assistant, Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • 1994 - 1999     Graduate Research Assistant, Columbia University in the City of New York
  • 1999 - 2001     Instructor and Director of Instrument Facility, University of Tennessee HSC (UTHSC)
  • 2001 - 2004     Assistant Professor and Faculty Director of Shared Analytical Instrument Facility, UTHSC
  • 2004 - 2009     Assistant Professor (tenure-track) and  Faculty Director of Shared Analytical Instrument Facility, UTHSC
  • 2009-2014 Associate Professor (tenured) and  Faculty Director of Shared Analytical Instrument Facility, UTHSC
  • 2014-present   Professor and  Faculty Director of Shared Analytical Instrument Facility, UTHSC


  1. Slominski, AT, Kim, TK, Li, W, Tuckey, RC. Classical and non-classical metabolic transformation of vitamin D in dermal fibroblasts. Exp Dermatol, 2015.
  2. Hwang, DJ, Wang, J, Li, W, Miller, DD. Structural Optimization of Indole Derivatives Acting at Colchicine Binding Site as Potential Anticancer Agents. ACS Med Chem Lett, 6 (9), 993-7, 2015.
  3. Lin, Z, Li, W. The Roles of Vitamin D and Its Analogs in Inflammatory Diseases. Curr Top Med Chem, 2015.
  4. Wang, Q, Lin, Z, Kim, TK, Slominski, AT, Miller, DD, Li, W. Total synthesis of biologically active 20S-hydroxyvitamin D3. Steroids, 2015.
  5. Mundra, V, Li, W, Mahato, RI. Nanoparticle-mediated drug delivery for treating melanoma. Nanomedicine (Lond), 10 (16), 2613-33, 2015.
  6. Banerjee, S, Wang, J, Pfeffer, S, Ma, D, Pfeffer, LM, Patil, SA, Li, W, Miller, DD. Design, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Novel 5H-Chromenopyridines as Potential Anti-Cancer Agents. Molecules, 20 (9), 17152-65, 2015.
  7. Ness, RA, Miller, DD, Li, W. The role of vitamin D in cancer prevention. Chin J Nat Med, 13 (7), 481-97, 2015.
  8. Kim, TK, Lin, Z, Li, W, Reiter, RJ, Slominski, AT. N1-Acetyl-5-Methoxykynuramine (AMK) is produced in the human epidermis and shows antiproliferative effects. Endocrinology, 156 (5), 1630-6, 2015.
  9. Xiao, M, Li, W. Recent Advances on Small-Molecule Survivin Inhibitors. Curr Med Chem, 2015.
  10. Lu, Y, Chen, J, Wang, J, Li, CM, Ahn, S, Barrett, CM, Dalton, JT, Li, W, Miller, DD. Design, synthesis, and biological evaluation of stable colchicine binding site tubulin inhibitors as potential anticancer agents. J Med Chem, 57 (17), 7355-66, 2014.
  11. Chen, J, Wang, J, Kim, TK, Tieu, EW, Tang, EK, Lin, Z, Kovacic, D, Miller, DD, Postlethwaite, A, Tuckey, RC, Slominski, AT, Li, W. Novel vitamin D analogs as potential therapeutics: metabolism, toxicity profiling, and antiproliferative activity. Anticancer Res, 34 (5), 2153-63, 2014.
  12. Slominski, AT, Kim, TK, Shehabi, HZ, Tang, EK, Benson, HA, Semak, I, Lin, Z, Yates, CR, Wang, J, Li, W, Tuckey, RC. In vivo production of novel vitamin D2 hydroxy-derivatives by human placentas, epidermal keratinocytes, Caco-2 colon cells and the adrenal gland. Mol Cell Endocrinol, 383 (1-2), 181-92, 2014.
  13. Slominski, AT, Zmijewski, MA, Semak, I, Zbytek, B, Pisarchik, A, Li, W, Zjawiony, J, Tuckey, RC. Cytochromes p450 and skin cancer: role of local endocrine pathways. Anticancer Agents Med Chem, 14 (1), 77-96, 2014.
  14. Wang, J, Chen, J, Miller, DD, Li, W. Synergistic combination of novel tubulin inhibitor ABI-274 and vemurafenib overcome vemurafenib acquired resistance in BRAFV600E melanoma. Mol Cancer Ther, 13 (1), 16-26, 2014.
  15. Slominski, AT, Kim, TK, Li, W, Yi, AK, Postlethwaite, A, Tuckey, RC. The role of CYP11A1 in the production of vitamin D metabolites and their role in the regulation of epidermal functions. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol, 2013.
  16. Slominski, A, Zbytek, B, Nikolakis, G, Manna, PR, Skobowiat, C, Zmijewski, M, Li, W, Janjetovic, Z, Postlethwaite, A, Zouboulis, CC, Tuckey, RC. Steroidogenesis in the skin: implications for local immune functions. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol, 137, 107-23, 2013.
  17. Lin, Z, Yang, R, Guan, Z, Chen, A, Li, W. Ultra-performance LC separation and quadrupole time-of-flight MS identification of major alkaloids in Plumula Nelumbinis. Phytochem Anal, 25 (6), 485-94, 2013.
  18. Kim, TK, Kleszczynski, K, Janjetovic, Z, Sweatman, T, Lin, Z, Li, W, Reiter, RJ, Fischer, TW, Slominski, AT. Metabolism of melatonin and biological activity of intermediates of melatoninergic pathway in human skin cells. FASEB J, 27 (7), 2742-55, 2013.
  19. Xiao, M, Ahn, S, Wang, J, Chen, J, Miller, DD, Dalton, JT, Li, W. Discovery of 4-Aryl-2-benzoyl-imidazoles as tubulin polymerization inhibitor with potent antiproliferative properties. J Med Chem, 56 (8), 3318-29, 2013.
  20. Slominski, A, Janjetovic, Z, Tuckey, RC, Nguyen, MN, Bhattacharya, KG, Wang, J, Li, W, Jiao, Y, Gu, W, Brown, M, Postlethwaite, AE. 20S-hydroxyvitamin D3, noncalcemic product of CYP11A1 action on vitamin D3, exhibits potent antifibrogenic activity in vivo. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 98 (2), E298-303, 2013.
  21. Chen, J, Slominski, AT, Miller, DD, Li, W. Effects of sidechain length and composition on the kinetic conversion and product distribution of vitamin D analogs determined by real-time NMR. Dermatoendocrinol, 5 (1), 142-9, 2013.
  22. Slominski, A, Kim, TK, Zmijewski, MA, Janjetovic, Z, Li, W, Chen, J, Kusniatsova, EI, Semak, I, Postlethwaite, A, Miller, DD, Zjawiony, JK, Tuckey, RC. Novel vitamin D photoproducts and their precursors in the skin. Dermatoendocrinol, 5 (1), 7-19, 2013.
  23. Mundra, V, Lu, Y, Danquah, M, Li, W, Miller, DD, Mahato, RI. Formulation and characterization of polyester/polycarbonate nanoparticles for delivery of a novel microtubule destabilizing agent. Pharm Res, 29 (11), 3064-74, 2012.
  24. Li, CM, Lu, Y, Chen, J, Costello, TA, Narayanan, R, Dalton, MN, Snyder, LM, Ahn, S, Li, W, Miller, DD, Dalton, JT. Orally bioavailable tubulin antagonists for paclitaxel-refractory cancer. Pharm Res, 29 (11), 3053-63, 2012.
  25. Wang, Z, Chen, J, Wang, J, Ahn, S, Li, CM, Lu, Y, Loveless, VS, Dalton, JT, Miller, DD, Li, W. Novel tubulin polymerization inhibitors overcome multidrug resistance and reduce melanoma lung metastasis. Pharm Res, 29 (11), 3040-52, 2012.
  26. Lu, Y, Chen, J, Xiao, M, Li, W, Miller, DD. An overview of tubulin inhibitors that interact with the colchicine binding site. Pharm Res, 29 (11), 2943-71, 2012.
  27. Slominski, AT, Kim, TK, Chen, J, Nguyen, MN, Li, W, Yates, CR, Sweatman, T, Janjetovic, Z, Tuckey, RC. Cytochrome P450scc-dependent metabolism of 7-dehydrocholesterol in placenta and epidermal keratinocytes. Int J Biochem Cell Biol, 44 (11), 2003-18, 2012.
  28. Bukiya, AN, Patil, SA, Li, W, Miller, DD, Dopico, AM. Calcium- and voltage-gated potassium (BK) channel activators in the 5β-cholanic acid-3α-ol analogue series with modifications in the lateral chain. ChemMedChem, 7 (10), 1784-92, 2012.
  29. Kim, TK, Wang, J, Janjetovic, Z, Chen, J, Tuckey, RC, Nguyen, MN, Tang, EK, Miller, D, Li, W, Slominski, AT. Correlation between secosteroid-induced vitamin D receptor activity in melanoma cells and computer-modeled receptor binding strength. Mol Cell Endocrinol, 361 (1-2), 143-52, 2012.
  30. Slominski, AT, Kim, TK, Shehabi, HZ, Semak, I, Tang, EK, Nguyen, MN, Benson, HA, Korik, E, Janjetovic, Z, Chen, J, Yates, CR, Postlethwaite, A, Li, W, Tuckey, RC. In vivo evidence for a novel pathway of vitamin D₃ metabolism initiated by P450scc and modified by CYP27B1. FASEB J, 26 (9), 3901-15, 2012.
  31. Chen, J, Ahn, S, Wang, J, Lu, Y, Dalton, JT, Miller, DD, Li, W. Discovery of novel 2-aryl-4-benzoyl-imidazole (ABI-III) analogues targeting tubulin polymerization as antiproliferative agents. J Med Chem, 55 (16), 7285-9, 2012.
  32. Patil, SA, Wang, J, Li, XS, Chen, J, Jones, TS, Hosni-Ahmed, A, Patil, R, Seibel, WL, Li, W, Miller, DD. New substituted 4H-chromenes as anticancer agents. Bioorg Med Chem Lett, 22 (13), 4458-61, 2012.