You are here

Xiang (Shawn) Zhang, PhD

Associate Professor
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, Texas

Current Research

  • Seeking innovative strategies to eliminate circulating tumor cells and prevent metastasis.
  • Laboratory studies are conducted to understand how immune cells enable tumor cell clusters to invade distant tissue and form new tumors.
  • Findings from this research could identify new immune approaches to target tumor cell clusters and prevent metastasis.

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are often found in the bloodstream of cancer patients and harbor important clinical and biological information, such as the tumor' s response to drug and risk of metastasis. Dr. Zhang’s research aims to identify new strategies to prevent of breast cancer metastasis by targeting CTCs. His team recently discovered that CTC clusters are resistant to attack by the immune cells and that this allows them to metastasize more easily. This research could have applications for understanding metastatic breast cancer for all sub-types of the disease.

Full Research Summary

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are cells that have broken away from the tumor and entered the circulation, which makes them detectable in a sample of blood- called liquid biopsy. While CTCs may be found as single cells, recent studies have shown that some CTCs travel in clusters. Studies from Dr. Zhang’s laboratory suggest that CTC clusters are less vulnerable to attack by the immune system, allowing them to become established metastases.

In ongoing studies, Dr. Zhang’s team will identify the populations of immune cells that may protect CTC clusters from immune surveillance and elucidate the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which CTC clusters evade immune attack.

Through these experiments, Dr. Zhang hopes to identify therapeutic strategies to abolish the metastatic advantage of CTC clusters and restore their vulnerability to the immune system.


Dr. Zhang is an Associate tenured Professor at Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center of Baylor College of Medicine. He received his PhD degree from Columbia University under the mentorship of Dr. Lawrence Chasin where he focused on the biology of mRNA splicing.  He then joined Dr. Joan Massague’s laboratory at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he began to study cancer metastasis. He made several findings using an integrative strategy combining cancer genomics and experimental metastasis approaches.  He was named McNair Scholar in 2011. He is also an awardee of the K99/R00 Pathways to Independence Grant from National Cancer Institute. At Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Zhang continues to investigate biological mechanisms and therapeutic strategies of breast cancer metastasis. His long-term goals are to eradicate latent cancer cells in distant organs, and to reduce the incidence of overt-metastases.

Large Researcher Headshot - Zhang Xiang

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The ANN INC. Award (a division of ascena retail group inc.)

Area(s) of Focus