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Dezheng Huo, PhD

Associate Professor,
Department of Public Health Sciences
The University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

Current Research

Goal: To understand the disparity in breast cancer incidence and outcomes in women from different ethnic backgrounds.

Impact: Dr. Huo’s work is focused on understanding why triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is more common in young women of African ancestry. Discoveries resulting from his BCRF research may inform population-specific screening and preventive strategies for this population.

What’s next: Dr. Huo will continue to study genetic factors that contribute to aggressive forms of breast cancer in order to develop effective tools for risk assessment and treatment of breast cancer in diverse populations. 

Research has shown that African American women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed with TNBC, a subtype of breast cancer that is usually more aggressive and harder to treat compared to other subtypes of the disease. Dr. Huo and BCRF collaborator Dr. Funmi Olopade are exploring genetic factors that contribute to TNBC in diverse groups of women—work they hope will inform more personalized therapies and prevention strategies.

Full Research Summary

Research area: Determining the genetic factors that contribute to aggressive breast cancers in diverse groups of women.

Impact: Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive subtype of breast cancer that is challenging to treat. Research has shown that it is more common in young women, especially young women of African ancestry; the reasons for this disparity, however, are not well understood. Dr. Huo is conducting studies aimed at identifying molecular differences in tumors from women of different ethnic backgrounds, with the goal of improving the prevention, early detection, and treatment of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.

Current investigation: His team is conducting mechanistic studies to examine how genetic variations contribute to aggressive phenotypes of breast cancer in women of African ancestry.

What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Huo and Olopade have identified mutations beyond the well-known cancer predisposition genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 that contribute to TNBC. They have focused on how several genes including FTO and TRAIL contribute to aggressive tumor progression using a gene editing technology, CRISPR-Cas9. Their results indicate that FTO may play an oncogenic role by promoting cell proliferation and resistance to apoptosis (a type of cell death). They have also shown that the TRAIL gene plays a significant role in regulating immune defense mechanisms and anti-tumor responses in estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer cells thereby affecting breast cancer initiation and inflammation. 

What’s next: Dr. Huo and his colleagues will continue to examine how genetic variations in the TRAIL gene might contribute to aggressive phenotypes of breast cancer. They will exploit their findings to develop preclinical models to investigate the influence of the TRAIL gene on tumor immunity.


Dezheng Huo is Associate Professor of Epidemiology in Department of Public Health Sciences with joint appointment in Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago. Dr. Huo's research spans across several areas of breast cancer research, including: 1) the genetic and environmental factors underlying the etiology of breast cancer, particular in women of African ancestry; 2) epigenetics, non-coding RNAs, and the prognosis of breast cancer; 3) treatment utilization and health disparity in breast cancer patients. Using genome-wide association study and whole genome sequencing approach, Dr. Huo has been investigating the genetic factors for breast cancer in women of African ancestry. Collaborating with researchers in a consortium, he seeks to develop a genetic risk prediction model to predict breast cancer risk for African Americans. He also completed a pilot study identifying microRNAs in circulation that can predict breast cancer recurrence. Dr. Huo conducted systemic investigations of the utilization of hormonal therapy, radiotherapy, and surgery in breast cancer patients, as well as outcome disparity due to nonadherence to guidelines. He is exploring the influence of lifestyle factors and comorbidity on survival outcomes in breast cancer survivors using a perspective cohort study of multiple ethnicities. 

Grid Researcher Headshot -  Huo Dezheng

BCRF Investigator Since


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