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University Research Lecturer, Departmental Lecturer

MD. PhD Dan Li - Associate ProfessorTell us a bit about your role

I’m a Senior Researcher in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics (DPAG). I received my Bachelor and Master’s degree in Medicine in China and was awarded a PhD from Chonbuk National University Medical School in South Korea in 2003. After completing my PhD, I moved to the University of Oxford to pursue post-doctoral studies that same year, where I joined the group of Professor David Paterson. In 2020, I became the first woman of Asian descent to be appointed Departmental Lecturer in DPAG, and was then awarded the title of University Research Lecturer.

My main research interest focuses on understanding how the autonomic nervous system influences cardiac function in health and disease. I developed a primary culture system of sympathetic ganglion neurons, using cellular and molecular approaches to investigate the interactions between different signalling cascades. Recently, I have been differentiating the induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC) from Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) patients into iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes and sympathetic neurons that carry the patient’s genome including CPVT-linked mutations and expressing the disease phenotype in vitro at the cellular level. Using single or co-culture of these two cell types, I am investigating the molecular and cellular disease-mechanisms of this inherited arrhythmia which causes sudden cardiac death in children and young adults.


What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?

During the past three decades, the sympathetic nervous system has received increased attention due to its crucial role in cardiovascular medicine. Autonomic disorders can occur on their own, without a clear cause, or they can be caused by another underlying condition. I am using state-of-the-art technology combined with molecular biology techniques to investigate the mechanism underlying the link between sympathetic dysfunction and cardiomyopathy, and gaining new insights into human diseases with iPSC-based disease models such as CPVT and diabetes. This will open new opportunities for investigating the disease mechanism in vitro, developing new drugs, predicting their toxicity and optimizing current treatment strategies. I find great meaning in how my research can pave way for the development and advancement of new medicines to cure diseases which have been significantly affecting people’s lives.

Can you tell us about something you've done or contributed to that you're most proud of?

I have supervised 15 Final Honours School (FHS) undergraduate dissertation students and summer research Scholars at DPAG, including the Medicine and Biomedical Sciences courses, and both Chinese and South Korean Visiting students. Most students were awarded first class for their research projects. What I am most proud of is that two of my students won the Wronker Prize in Pharmacology. This award is given to the top-performing student in the FHS research project for outstanding achievement.

What changes would you most like to see in the medical sciences in the next 100 years?

Women of colour have historically faced significant challenges in pursuing careers in science and medicine. In the next 100 years, I would like to see more female minorities and people of colour being given equal opportunities and entering positions of leadership. Women of colour, including myself, have had to work at least twice as hard as peers to get to where they are today, yet they still receive unequal treatment and recognition. I believe it is time for these women to shine and receive the recognition they deserve, and for barriers preventing women of colour to succeed to be demolished.

View DPAG Team Profile