Congratulations to Dr. Zhongwei Li for being honored as USC’s Community Superhero of the Game on Saturday, September 17th at the matchup between USC and Fresno at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum! It was a wonderful opportunity for football fans to hear about Dr. Li’s inspirational story and his groundbreaking synthetic kidney project.
The first scientist in his family, Dr. Li grew up in Chongqing, China, and was fascinated by biology and stem cells from an early age. In 2007, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. In 2012, as a Ph.D. candidate at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, he studied the signals that guide stem cell behavior in the laboratory of Ye-Guang Chen.
He then undertook his postdoctoral training at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California in the lab of Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte. As a postdoc, Li created a cocktail of molecules that encourages the growth of kidney stem cells in the lab, opening new avenues for the study of kidney development, disease and regeneration.
In 2017, Dr. Li joined the Keck School of Medicine of USC as an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and principal investigator at the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center (KRC). His research team uses state-of-the-art stem cell and bioengineering technologies to build mini-kidneys in the lab, with a near-term goal of being able to test potential drugs to treat kidney disease, and the long-term goal of developing lab-grown functional kidneys for transplantation into patients.
If successful, this groundbreaking project would save millions of lives, billions of dollars spent on dialysis, and vastly improve the quality of life for people needing kidney transplants.