Faculty Profile: Getting to Know Wei Xu

Wei Xu, PhD
Professor of Oncology
Marian A. Messerschmidt Professor of Cancer Research

Please tell me a little about yourself.  Where did you grow up?  Where did you go to school?  

I grew up in a small city in China close to the Yangzi River. I went to Peking University for my undergraduate studies in Chemistry. Then I received the M.S. degree in Biophysics from the Institute of Biophysics in the Chinese Academy, China.  I studied at the University of Iowa to obtain a Ph.D. in Biochemistry.

Where did you carry out your postdoctoral research? 

I carried out my postdoctoral research under guidance of Ronald Evans, a pioneer in the nuclear hormone receptor field, at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA. Dr. Evans is a role model for being a great scientist, as well as being generous and supportive of young scientists. We were given freedom to explore unknowns and encouraged to be rigorous with our approaches and to be cautious with data interpretation. This training had a big influence on me in becoming a critical scientist.

As a child, who was your biggest influence? 

A number of my teachers including my parents have influenced me. I learned that the only way to pursue my dream was to get out of my hometown and receive a higher education

Why did you decide to study science?

I was initially fascinated by the chemical reactions to make new substances. As I got into research, I saw that the application of chemistry to biomedicine often provides the cure for human disease.

Why did you come to Madison/McArdle?  When?

I joined the faculty at the McArdle Laboratory in 2005. My job interview in the summer of 2004 was really pleasant. I had a great impression of the fascinating science, collaborative research environment, and comfortable lifestyle in Madison.

What do you like most about being a professor?  

I like to do hypothesis-driven research as well as the exploratory type of studies. Being a professor, I enjoy working with a team of young scientists who are fearless to explore new areas and challenge the existing paradigms.

What is the focus of your research?  

My research addresses fundamental questions on the roles of protein arginine methyltransferases (PRMTs) in governing essential cellular processes. Through understanding how their activities go awry in disease states, such as breast and kidney cancers, we hope to develop effective therapeutic strategies to control aberrant PRMT activities in pathogenesis.

For someone interested in your research, would you provide a couple of publications that summarize your work?

Shishkova E., Zeng, H., Liu, F., Kwiecien, N.W., Hebert, A.S., Coon, J.J., and Xu, W. (2017) Global mapping of CARM1 substrates defines enzyme specificity and substrate recognition. Nature Comm., 8: 15571.

Zhao, Z., Wang, L., James, T., Jung, Y., Kim, I., Tan, R., Hoffmann, F.M., and Xu, W. (2015) Reciprocal regulation of ERα and ERβ stability and activity by Diptoindonesin G. Chem. Biol., 22: 1608-1621.

Wang, L., Zhao, Z., Meyer, M.B., Saha, S., Yu, M., Guo, A., Wisinski, K.B., Huang, W., Cai, W., Pike, J.W., Yuan, M., Ahlquist, P., and Xu, W. (2014) CARM1 methylates chromatin remodeling factor BAF155 to enhance tumor progression and metastasis. Cancer Cell, 25: 21-36.


What do you consider your major accomplishments?

My major accomplishment is the maturation of my graduate students and postdocs, who gradually become independent researchers and develop professional skills successfully. 

What advice would you provide to a new assistant professor who is just starting his/her career?

Do not be afraid to ask big questions. 

When you are not working, what do you like to do?  What is your favorite place in Madison?

I like to work in my garden and take care of my indoor plants. The UW Arboretum is my favorite place to go hiking in the spring and fall. Costco is my favorite place to shop.