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Dezheng Huo, PhD

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

Current Research

  • Seeking to understand the disparity in breast cancer incidence and outcomes in women from different ethnic backgrounds.
  • Ongoing studies are focused on determining the genetic factors that contribute to aggressive breast cancers in diverse groups of women.
  • This work will provide new insights into the disparate incidence of triple negative breast cancer in African American women and inform population-specific screening and preventive strategies.

Disparities in breast cancer incidence and outcomes between women of African descent and those of European descent are well documented. The causes are not well understood but involve both biologic and environmental factors. Drs. Huo and Olopade are conducting studies to identify molecular differences in tumors from women of different ethnic backgrounds that will inform more personalized therapies and prevention strategies for women at risk of aggressive breast cancers.

Full Research Summary

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) remains a serious clinical challenge and disproportionately affects young women and women of African ancestry. Advances in our understanding of the human genome (the genes in our DNA) have allowed development of new ways to treat TNBC by targeting pathways that are dysregulated in the tumor.

Research has established that sporadic (not inherited) changes in DNA act in concert with lifestyle and other risk factors to cause aggressive breast cancer. The work of Drs. Huo and Olopade is focused on identifying patterns in the DNA of women from different ethnic backgrounds that may help to explain genetic differences in breast cancer incidence and outcomes.

Using tumors from indigenous Africans, African Americans, and White Americans, the team identified a gene called TRAIL, which when mutated, increases the risk of estrogen receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer. Based on these promising data, they are conducting mechanistic studies to examine how genes such as TRAIL contribute to aggressive behavior of breast cancer and how epigenetic modifications of DNA (chemical modifications to DNA that affect expression of genes) contribute to the process.

Their ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to develop effective diagnostic tools for personalized risk prediction and novel therapies for personalized cancer medicine in diverse populations of women.


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


Donor Recognition

The Ulta Beauty Award