MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Dr. Wa Xian

Dr. Wa  Xian

Regular Member

Assistant Professor

The University of Texas Health Center at Houston
McGovern Medical School
Institute of Molecular Medicine
Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine

Dr. Xian is building a broad platform of tissue-specific, adult stem cells for modeling human disease, drug discovery, and regenerative medicine.  In particular, she has developed innovative technologies that capture, for the first time, the most immature or “ground state” stem cells of human columnar epithelia including the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas, and kidney.  She has demonstrated that these cells have properties that provide fundamental advantages for regenerative medicine in general and for patient-specific models of chronic and proliferative diseases in particular.  For regenerative medicine, she has shown that ground state, “adult” stem cells are readily clonogenic and that single clones or “pedigrees” have unlimited replicative potential, are genomically stable, and retain an exquisitely precise commitment to the multiple epithelial cell types found in the particular organ from which were derived.  In addition to these features, ground state stem cells have the remarkable property of recapitulating, in the absence of stromal cells, complex 3-D assemblies akin to that seen in the organ in vivo.  Based on this unique combination of properties, she anticipates that ground state epithelial stem cells will ultimately dominate efforts towards autologous transplantation therapies.  Dr. Xian is also working with clinical specialists and molecular geneticists in chronic inflammatory diseases of the airways and gastrointestinal tract to develop patient-specific disease models of these diseases which are already yielding profound insights into the roles of epithelia in the etiology and/or chronic features of these diseases.  They anticipate that the enhanced resolution of aberrant signaling pathways and epigenetic analyses afforded by these cloned, patient-specific stem cell models will provide new approaches to treatment of these chronic conditions.  Finally, Dr. Xian’s ground state stem cell technology is proving its value in capturing the minute “cancer stem cell” clones from the plurality of tumor cells from aggressive epithelial cancers of the ovary, pancreas, stomach, and lung to name several.  “Libraries” of such cancer stem cells from each patient are already providing insights into both the existence of sub-populations with intrinsic resistance to standard of care chemotherapy as well as rapid screens for alternative, effective treatments with the goal of suppressing or preventing recurrent disease.

Ongoing Research:

Stem Cell Mediated Lung Regeneration

Patient-Specific Models of Inflammatory Diseases

Evolution and Resistance of Lethal Epithelial Cancers


IMM Faculty 

Contact Information

Phone: 713.500.3116


Office: SRB 630B


Ph.D. - MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School - 2002


Faculty is Currently: