Zhongwei Li, PhD

Assistant Professor of Medicine and Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine

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Organ transplantation saves lives. However, the gap between organ supply and organ demand is ever increasing. Kidneys account for more than 80% of the donor organs needed by patients awaiting transplantation. Thus, it is an urgent task to find ways to build transplantable kidneys. My research aims to bridge basic studies of kidney organogenesis and translational applications of stem/progenitor cell-based kidney regeneration and disease modeling, with the long-term goal of rebuilding the kidney. State-of-the-art stem cell technologies and engineering methodologies are combined in my research to achieve these goals.


  • NIH: NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, 2022
  • University of Southern California: “Heros Among Us” Medal, 2022
  • School of Life Sciences of Tsinghua University: Representative Alumni Award, 2021
  • Keck School of Medicine of USC: Dean’s Pilot Award, 2019
  • Wright Foundation: Wright Foundation Pilot Award, 2018
  • Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China (ISTIC): Top 100 Influential Research Articles in China (2012), 2013
  • Johnson & Johnson: “Johnson & Johnson Asia Outstanding Thesis Award in Bio-tech”, 1st Prize, 2012
  • Ray Wu Memorial Fund: Ray Wu Prize, 2012
  • City of Beijing: Outstanding Ph.D. Graduate Award, 2012
  • Tsinghua University: Outstanding Ph.D. Graduate Award, 2012
  • Tsinghua University: Outstanding Ph.D. Thesis Award, 2012
  • Sichuan University: Outstanding Undergraduate Award, 2007
  • Sichuan University: Outstanding Undergraduate Thesis Award, 2007


  • Approaches to kidney replacement therapies-opportunities and challenges Front Cell Dev Biol. 2022; 10:953408. . View in PubMed
  • Building a kidney tree: Functional collecting duct from human pluripotent stem cells Dev Cell. 2022 10 10; 57(19):2251-2253. . View in PubMed
  • Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein forms nuclear condensates and regulates alternative splicing Nat Commun. 2022 06 25; 13(1):3646. . View in PubMed
  • Generation of patterned kidney organoids that recapitulate the adult kidney collecting duct system from expandable ureteric bud progenitors Nat Commun. 2021 06 15; 12(1):3641. . View in PubMed
  • Epigenetic regulation of kidney progenitor cells Stem Cells Transl Med. 2020 Jun; 9(6):655-660. . View in PubMed
  • A Modular Differentiation System Maps Multiple Human Kidney Lineages from Pluripotent Stem Cells Cell Rep. 2020 04 07; 31(1):107476. . View in PubMed
  • Kidney-in-a-lymph node: A novel organogenesis assay to model human renal development and test nephron progenitor cell fates J Tissue Eng Regen Med. 2019 09; 13(9):1724-1731. . View in PubMed
  • Gene Editing in 3D Cultured Nephron Progenitor Cell Lines Methods Mol Biol. 2019; 1926:151-159. . View in PubMed
  • Derivation of Pluripotent Stem Cells with In Vivo Embryonic and Extraembryonic PotencyCell. 2017 04 06; 169(2):243-257. e25. . View in PubMed
  • Activin/Smad2-induced Histone H3 Lys-27 Trimethylation (H3K27me3) Reduction Is Crucial to Initiate Mesendoderm Differentiation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells J Biol Chem. 2017 01 27; 292(4):1339-1350. . View in PubMed
  • 3D Culture Supports Long-Term Expansion of Mouse and Human Nephrogenic Progenitors Cell Stem Cell. 2016 10 06; 19(4):516-529. . View in PubMed
  • Activin Regulates Self-renewal and Differentiation of Trophoblast Stem Cells by Down-regulating the X Chromosome Gene Bcor J Biol Chem. 2015 Sep 04; 290(36):22019-29. . View in PubMed
  • An alternative pluripotent state confers interspecies chimaeric competency Nature. 2015 May 21; 521(7552):316-21. . View in PubMed
  • BMP induces cochlin expression to facilitate self-renewal and suppress neural differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells J Biol Chem. 2013 Mar 22; 288(12):8053-8060. . View in PubMed
  • Functions of BMP signaling in embryonic stem cell fate determination Exp Cell Res. 2013 Jan 15; 319(2):113-9. . View in PubMed
  • TGF-ß in Human Disease (Chapter 2) 2013. . View in PubMed
  • Fine-tune of intrinsic ERK activity by extrinsic BMP signaling in mouse embryonic stem cells Protein Cell. 2012 Jun; 3(6):401-4. . View in PubMed
  • Where PI3K/Akt meets Smads: the crosstalk determines human embryonic stem cell fate Cell Stem Cell. 2012 Mar 02; 10(3):231-2. . View in PubMed
  • BMP4 Signaling Acts via dual-specificity phosphatase 9 to control ERK activity in mouse embryonic stem cells Cell Stem Cell. 2012 Feb 03; 10(2):171-82. . View in PubMed
  • Smad2 mediates Activin/Nodal signaling in mesendoderm differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells Cell Res. 2010 Dec; 20(12):1306-18. . View in PubMed
  • Genome-wide mapping of SMAD target genes reveals the role of BMP signaling in embryonic stem cell fate determination Genome Res. 2010 Jan; 20(1):36-44. . View in PubMed