Daochun Sun, PhD

Daochun Sun, PhD

Assistant Professor


  • Cell Biology, Neurobiology & Anatomy

Contact Information


Research Associate, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center
PhD, School of Medicine, Wayne State University BS, Yantai University


Dr. Sun obtained his PhD degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics by studying mechanisms of Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1)-associated Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors (MPNST) at School of Medicine, Wayne State University. He further received postdoctoral training from the Developmental Biology Department at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center, and Cancer Biology and Genetics program in Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. His works emphasize the cell-of-origins of the tumor, and he identified a stem-like cell population playing essential roles in tumorigenesis, relapse, and metastasis of NF1-associated plexiform neurofibromas and MPNST. These discoveries may provide novel strategies to prevent tumor transformation, progression, chemoresistance, and metastasis.

Research Interests

Tumor heterogeneity is a challenge from benchside to bedside. Developmental biology and Darwinism provide a natural history point of view on this challenge. Many examples have shown that cancer can be a stem cell disease. Tumorigenesis, drug resistance, relapse, and metastasis manifest the joined forces of development, genome evolution, and environmental selection. NF1-associated tumors such as plexiform neurofibromas (PN), malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNST), and glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) are representative models reflecting the stem cell-related functional tumor heterogeneity.

My lab will take advantage of sophisticated mouse models and patient-derived xenograft models to explore the strategies targeting tumor progression, relapse, and metastasis.

Focus 1: Plexiform Neurofibromas

PN are congenital benign tumors in young people with NF1. The PN patients have a significantly higher risk for malignant transformation. My preliminary data on human PN using single cell sequencing indicates that stem-like tumor cells play a critical role in disease initiation and progression. Efficiently target those stem-like cells will serve as a novel treatment the young patients.

Focus 2: MPNST Relapse and Metastasis

Relapse and metastasis lead to the major mortality of NF1 patients with no effective treatments. My preliminary data demonstrate that the stem-like tumor cells that are relatively quiescent have a strong association with the nerve-enriched microenvironment and contribute to the local relapse after surgery or chemotherapy. With the transgenic mouse models, I have seen the increased potentials of MPNST cancer stem cells to form new metastatic lesions through the forced vascular dissemination. Revealing the mechanisms involved in the relapse and metastasis will provide great insights to benefit the NF1 patients.

Focus 3: Biological Big Data Mining in Cancer Research

The ever-evolving technologies offer massive biological data in great broadness and granularity with various formats, including genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, single cell technology, and high throughput screening. Understanding and interpreting biological big data are new challenges and bring excellent chances for discovery. The lab focusses on big data-based subtyping and drug target discovery in NF1-related disorders using R programming. Big data analysis offers new insights into disease mechanisms and treatments and paves the road for future precision medicine.