Associate Professor
Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, TX, US
Associate Professor
Molecular and Human Genetics
Baylor College of Medicine
Associate Professor
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, Texas
Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, Texas, United States


MD from Peking University Health Science Center
PhD from Sloan-Kettering Institute/Cornell University Weill Graduate School of Medical Sciences
Postdoctoral Fellowship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Honors & Awards

Career Development Award
American Cancer Society Research Scholar
Lynn Sage Scholar
CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research

Professional Interests

  • RNA
  • Alternative splicing
  • Breast Cancer Metastasis
  • Clinical Applications

Professional Statement

In the Cheng lab, we strive to understand the fundamental questions of how RNA regulation controls cellular processes in normal biology and in the context of cancer. Working at the interface of RNA splicing and breast cancer biology, our current focus is on regulation of breast cancer metastasis driven by alternative splicing. We use molecular biology, genomics, and bioinformatics approaches in conjunction with genetic models and patient samples to discover rules and networks that regulate metastasis and associated processes. We work closely with physician scientists and aim to apply our findings from basic research to the development of prognostic markers and therapeutics for the treatment of breast cancer.

The developmental program Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) is frequently re-activated in metastatic and recurrent tumors. Our work provided a conceptual understanding depicting a causal role for RNA alternative splicing in EMT and breast cancer recurrence. We found that splice isoform switching of the CD44 gene must take place in order for cells to undergo EMT. We also discovered a novel splicing-mediated pathway that drives cancer metastasis. We demonstrated that the RNA binding protein hnRNPM reprograms alternative splicing including CD44 and promotes a breast cancer metastatic phenotype. By competitive binding on cis-regulatory RNA elements, hnRNPM activates a mesenchymal splicing program in a cell-type restricted manner, emphasizing a tightly regulated splicing program during tumor metastasis. We are combining patient data biocomputing analysis with cell-based and animal experiments to determine the networks of RNA regulation that governs the phenotype of breast cancer metastasis.

In collaboration with nano-technology engineers, we developed the “NanoFlare” method that enables the detection and isolation of live circulating tumor cells (CTC), establishing a platform to study splicing-mediated cancer cell plasticity and phenotypes in patient-derived samples. We are continuing on this collaboration to develop novel tools for the prognosis and diagnosis of breast cancer.

We have been intrigued by the fact that nearly all human genes are detected to undergo alternative splicing, vastly expanding the human proteomes. Therapeutic resistance of promising anti-tumor drugs, such as the anti-HER2 antibody Trastuzumab and the B-RAF(V600E) inhibitor Vemurafenib, is now known to be caused by aberrantly spliced HER2 and B-RAF. Despite these important observations, alternative splicing in cancer has remained largely an untargeted territory. We are actively looking for dedicated research fellows to join us to understand the contribution of RNA regulation in breast cancer metastasis and to apply it to clinical settings.

Selected Publications


Alternative RNA Splicing of CSF3R in Promoting Myelodysplastic Syndromes
- #W81XWH-15-1-0153
DOD/U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command
Mechanisms of hnRNPM in Alternative Splicing Regulation During EMT
- #R01GM110146
Investigating the Mechanisms of CD44s Splice Isoform in Breast Cancer Metastasis
- #R01CA182467
Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT)
CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research