Cao Lab

Cao Lab
Cao Lab
Cao Lab
Cao Lab
Cao Lab
Cao Lab

Principal Investigator

Research Topic Areas
  1. Biologically active compounds from natural sources including fungi, bacteria, marine organisms and plants;
  2. Herbal medicine

Contact Information

Contact information

Lab Location: Waiakea Research Station, Building F
Lab Phone: (808) 981-8017

For UHH undergraduate students, if you are interested in research at Cao Lab, please feel free to contact Dr. Cao directly.

Lab Members

Lab Members
  • Xiaohua Wu, Research Associate and Lab Manager
  • Hyung Sik Kim, Ph.D., visiting Professor from School of Pharmacy, Sungkyunkwan University
  • Yun Kwon, Ph.D., Postdoc
  • Kh Ahammad Uz Zaman, Ph.D. student
  • Jasmine Hicking, Undergraduate student (SHARP Program)
  • Ellen Hauschild, Undergraduate student (INBRE Program)
  • Michelle Biete, Undergraduate student (SHARP Program)
  • Julian Huang, Undergraduate student
  • Lela DeVine, High School student

If you are interested in the research at Cao Lab, please contact Dr. Cao directly.  All undergraduate students are welcome to apply.

Detailed Research Description

Detailed Research Description
  1. Biologically active compounds from natural sources: Natural products were and are still a rich source for drug discovery. One challenge is the rediscovery of known compounds. To avoid replication, Cao Lab is interested in studying the under-explored microorganisms in Hawaii. (i) The distribution and biologically active compounds of marine fungi have not been well studied compared with their counterparts in freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. Few studies have addressed the occurrence of fungi in deep-sea sediments. Studies also showed that taxonomic and functional annotation of the transcriptome demonstrated that coral-associated fungi in Hawaii represent a diverse and metabolically active community, indicating that there is much to learn about fungi in corals. (ii) A total of 23,680 Hawaiian species have been documented, including 18,607 native Hawaiian species (9,151 indigenous species and 9,456 endemic species), and 5,073 human-introduced (non-native) species. Among the formally recognized species of native Hawaiian flowering plants, 88.9% are endemic to the Hawaiian islands. Research in the past ten years reveals that endophytic fungi are a rich source of biologically active secondary metabolites, but endophytic fungi are much underexplored. (iii) Bacteria, particularly actinimycetes, were traditionally the main source for drug discovery, especially for antibiotic. Many efforts have been focusing on discovering new drugs from old sources (for example, streptomyces), but it usually leads to the discovery of known natural products. More recently, efforts have been taken to reveal the cryptic natural products based on their unique genomic signatures. New technology enables scientists to study bacteria from new sources (for example, cyanobacteria, myxobacteria, uncultured bacteria, bacteria in lower animals, insects-associated bacteria, and bacteria from marine etc); and these adventures have resulted in the discovery of novel bioactive compounds with unique structural skeletons. Also, globally and locally remote, as well as physically and chemically diverse, Hawaiian aquatic habitats provide unique niches for the evolution of novel communities and microorganisms. Cao Lab is interested in finding new anticancer (& antibacterial and anti-fungal, etc.) natural products from marine and terrestrial fungi and bacteria collected in Hawaii, manipulating silent genes for the production of secondary metabolites, understanding how they are biosynthetically synthesized, and elucidating their mechanisms of action. Since the end of 2013, Cao Lab has published more than ten papers about anti-proliferative compounds, p53 reactivator, STAT3 & NF-kB inhibitors, and antibacterial & anti-fungal agents from Hawaiian fungi in "Org. Lett.", "Sci. Rep.", "Phytochemistry", "Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett.", "Tetrahedron Lett.", "Molecules", and "Cancer Biol." etc.
  2. Herbal medicine: Herbal medicine has a long history, which is still used in many countries. Although herbal medicine is not part of the mainstream medical care in the USA, FDA has approved two botanic drugs, and will likely approve more. One challenge to study herbal medicine is the identification of biologically active molecules that account for the claimed therapeutic effects and mechanisms of action. Cao Lab is interested in studying traditional medicine used in the Asia-Pacific Region. In the past few years, Cao Lab has been studying some medicinal plants including Barleria lupulina and Morinda citrifolia. From these plants, Cao Lab has isolated many new compounds, identified a few previously unknown Nrf2 activators, and published some papers in "PLoS ONE", "J. Ethnopharmacol.", "J. Nat. Prod.", "Tetrahedron Lett.", "Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett.", and "J. Nat. Sci." etc.

Current Funding

Current Funding

S. Cao, Principal Investigator (PI) Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) Natural products from Hawaiian endophytic fungi targeting mtp53 for TNBC & other cancers 2017-2018

S. Cao, Co-PI; Lead PI: Dr. Michael Hadfield (UH Manoa) Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF) The bacterial basis of larval recruitment for benthic marine communities 2015-2017 (no cost extension to 2018

S. Cao, JI; PI: Dr. Robert A. Nichols (JABSOM, UH Manoa) INBRE III: IDeA (Institutional Development Award) Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence
Hawaiian fungal metabolites as a source for the treatment of high-grade serous ovarian cancer 2017-2018

Recent Publications

Recent publications
  • Li CS, Sarotti AM, Huang P, Dang UT, Hurdle JG, Kondratyuk TP, Pezzuto JM, Turkson J, Cao S. "NF-κB inhibitors, unique γ-pyranol-γ-lactams with sul de and sulfoxide moieties from Hawaiian plant Lycopodiella cernua derived fungus Paraphaeosphaeria neglecta FT462 " Sci Rep 2017 Sep 5;7(1):10424 PMID: 28874704
  • Briggs KJ, Koivunen P, Cao S, Backus KM, Olenchock BA, Patel H, Zhang Q, Signoretti S, Gerfen GJ, Richardson AL, Witkiewicz AK, Cravatt BF, Clardy J, Kaelin WG Jr. "Paracrine Induction of HIF by Glutamate in Breast Cancer: EglN1 Senses Cysteine." Cell. 2016 Jun 30;166(1):126-39. PMID: 27368101
  • Li CS, Ren G, Yang BJ, Miklossy G, Turkson J, Fei P, Ding Y, Walker LA, Cao S. "Meroterpenoids with Antiproliferative Activity from a Hawaiian-Plant Associated Fungus Peyronellaea coffeae-arabicae FT238." Org Lett. 2016 May 20;18(10):2335-8. PMID: 27135759
  • Senger DR, Li D, Jaminet SC, Cao S." Activation of the Nrf2 Cell Defense Pathway by Ancient Foods: Disease Prevention by Important Molecules and Microbes Lost from the Modern Western Diet." PLoS One. 2016 Feb 17;11(2):e0148042. PMID: 26885667
  • Li CS, Ding Y, Yang BJ, Miklossy G, Yin HQ, Walker LA, Turkson J, Cao S. "A New Metabolite with a Unique 4-Pyranone-γ-Lactam-1,4-Thiazine Moiety from a Hawaiian-Plant Associated Fungus." Org Lett. 2015 Jul 17;17(14):3556-9. PMID:26107089
  • Hiraki M, Hwang SY, Cao S, Ramadhar TR, Byun S, Yoon KW, Lee JH, Chu K, Gurkar AU, Kolev V, Zhang J, Namba T, Murphy ME, Newman DJ, Mandinova A, Clardy J, Lee SW. "Small-Molecule Reactivation of Mutant p53 to Wild-Type-like p53 through the p53-Hsp40 Regulatory Axis." Chem Biol. 2015 Sep 17;22(9):1206-16. PMID:26320861
  • Wei S, Kozono S, Kats L, Nechama M, Li W, Guarnerio J, Luo M, You MH, Yao Y, Kondo A, Hu H, Bozkurt G, Moerke NJ, Cao S, Reschke M, Chen CH, Rego EM, Lo-Coco F, Cantley LC, Lee TH, Wu H, Zhang Y, Pandol  PP, Zhou XZ, Lu KP. "Active Pin1 is a key target of all-trans retinoic acid in acute promyelocytic leukemia and breast cancer." Nat Med. 2015 May;21(5):457-66. PMID: 25849135
  • Kim KH, Ramadhar TR, Beemelmanns C, Cao S, Poulsen M, Currie CR, Clardy J. "Natalamycin A, an Ansamycin from a Termite-Associated Streptomyces sp." Chem Sci. 2014 Nov 1;5(11):4333-4338. PMID: 25386334
  • Alegado RA, Brown LW, Cao S, Dermenjian RK, Zuzow R, Fairclough SR, Clardy J, King N. "A bacterial sulfonolipid triggers multicellular development in the closest living relatives of animals." Elife. 2012 Oct 15;1:e00013. PMID: 23066504
  • Blodgett JA, Oh DC, Cao S, Currie CR, Kolter R, Clardy J. "Common biosynthetic origins for polycyclic tetramate macrolactams from phylogenetically diverse bacteria." Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jun 29;107(26):11692-7. PMID: 20547882