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Xiang (Shawn) Zhang, PhD

Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, Texas

Titles and Affiliations

Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
William T. Butler Endowed Chair for Distinguished Faculty
Interim Director, Basic Science Research
Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center

Research area

Investigating ways to enhance the efficacy of immunotherapies in breast cancer.


Some breast tumors can evade the immune system, develop resistance to therapy and metastasize. They accomplish this by directly influencing specific cells of the immune system, even those that are far from the tumor itself. One of these immune cells, B-cells, are profoundly altered to the point where they are dysfunctional and cannot participate in a robust immune response to breast tumors. Dr. Zhang is examining breast tumor-induced B cell dysfunctions which are diverse across the patient population. His team identified several forms of tumor-induced B cell abnormality (TiBA), in patients with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and in laboratory models of TNBC. These were characterized asTiBA-1: a global reduction in B cells; TiBA-2: an accumulation of immature B cells, which may be immunosuppressive; and TiBA-0: no discernable changes in B cells. Dr. Zhang and his colleagues will examine the potential mechanisms and therapeutic targets to restore B-cell function as well as the impact TiBA-1 and –2 have on tumor progression. These studies may potentially uncover biomarkers and therapeutic targets that can be used to predict outcomes of immunotherapy or overcome immunosuppression, particularly in aggressive breast cancers such as TNBC.

What’s next

Dr. Zhang’s team will perform a comprehensive molecular characterization of the B cells in different pre-clinical models. They will investigate how the same lineage of immune cells can be systemically altered in divergent directions to achieve immunosuppression. The team will also determine how B cells at variable stages of development can be used as indicators of immune system status, thereby serving as biomarkers to predict therapeutic outcomes. Finally, they will identify molecular targets that can be leveraged to correct the aberrations induced by breast tumors and improve the efficacy of therapies that rely on a functional immune system.


Xiang (Shawn) Zhang, PhD is a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, the William T. Butler Endowed Chair for Distinguished Faculty, and the Interim Director of Basic Research at the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Dr. Zhang continues to investigate biological mechanisms and therapeutic strategies of breast cancer metastasis and has made several findings using an integrative strategy that combines cancer genomics and experimental metastasis approaches. His long-term goals are to eradicate latent cancer cells in distant organs, and to reduce the incidence of overt metastases.

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.

Dr. Zhang is the recipient of several prestigious awards: Laura Ziskin Translational Research Award of Breast Cancer (2022), Michael E. DeBakey Excellence in Research Award, Baylor College of Medicine (2018), Sue Eccles Young Investigator Award, Metastasis Research Society (2018), Leadership Award, Teresa Research Foundation (2016), Excellence in Research Award, Baylor College of Medicine (2016), Era of Hope Scholar Award, Department of Defense, Breast Cancer Research Program (2015), Career Catalyst Research Award, Susan G. Komen Foundation (2015). He is also an awardee of the K99/R00 Pathways to Independence Grant from the National Cancer Institute.

If not for BCRF, my research would have been confined to what I was trained for, but not up to the boundary of my creativity. It would be impossible for my team to explore and discover new therapeutic opportunities behind the crosstalk between cancer cells and the immune system.

BCRF Investigator Since