Principal Investigator

Wencai Zhang, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cancer Research
Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences
University of Central Florida College of Medicine
6900 Lake Nona Blvd, BBS 563 (Lab)/ BBS 549 (Office), Orlando, FL 32827
Office: (407) 266-7178 Lab: (407) 266-7179 Fax: (407) 266-7017

Education and Background

Wencai Zhang received his M.D. in 1998 from Weifang Medical College and his Ph.D. in 2004 from Fudan University in China. He received postdoctoral training at the Genome Institute of Singapore and Harvard Medical School. He became an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in August 2019.

Research Overview

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide. Dr. Zhang and his team have studied molecular regulation especially metabolic and microRNA signaling pathways in lung cancer initiation and progression (Cell, 2012; Nature Communications, 2016; Nature Metabolism, 2019). Currently Zhang Lab focuses on two research topics: precancer development and drug-tolerance. The long-term goal of this work is to identify non-coding and metabolic vulnerabilities of lung cancer to target tumorigenesis and therapeutic tolerance.

Professional Memberships

  • 2011-Present: Member, American Association of Cancer Research (AACR)
  • 2016-Present: Member, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • 2018-Present: Member, International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC)

Awards and Honors

  • 2022 UCF CBHRT (Center for Behavioral Health Research and Training) Award
  • 2022 UCF Exploratory Research (ER1) Award
  • 2020 International Lung Cancer Foundation Young Investigator Award
  • 2020 Atomwise Inc. AIMS Award
  • 2019 American Lung Association Catalyst Award (Declined)
  • 2017 NIH T32 Award; Aspen Cancer Conference Fellowship
  • 2016 NCI-YALE SPORE in Lung Cancer Career Development Award
  • 2015 GIS Institutional Performance Award
  • 2013 SingHealth Foundation Grant Award /Singapore
  • 2012 GIS Outstanding Performance Award; GSK Collaboration Grant Award
  • 2003 Fudan University Scholar
  • 2002 Fudan University Scholar
  • 2001 Outstanding Graduate Student Award /Weifang Medical College

Team Members

Graduate Students

Luis Silva (

8/22/2022 – current, Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student

A Fun Fact: I Love to Cook, Go Camping, and Hang out with my family.

Research Interests: My research interest is studying how microRNAs affect drug resistance. Drug resistance is a rising issue in the clinical field and many patients are subject to cancers that have adapted to their treatment. I hope to contribute to this area of study.

M.S., Biomedical Sciences, Concentration in Cancer Biology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, May 2021

B.S., Biomedical Sciences, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, May 2019

Wodzinski Scholarship (2022-2023) and Synergy Scholars Graduate Fellow (2022)

Alice Rodriguez (

10/15/2021 – current, Master Thesis student

A Fun Fact: I recently met my goal of reading 100 books in one year. My favorite genres are science fiction and history.

Research Interests: My main research interests are the roles that metabolic pathways play in lung cancer development and metastasis. I am also interested in the effects of metabolism in the tumor microenvironment and immune system function.

B.S., Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, May 2020

Nikitha Murugavel (

10/15/2021 – current, Master Thesis student

A Fun Fact: I am a beach person and love playing in the water. I am always up for fun outdoor activities.

Research Interests: My main research interest is to understand the role of different genes and the associated metabolic pathways in conferring drug resistance in lung cancer patients.

B.S., Biotechnology, Manipal Institute of Technology, India, May 2021

Nastassja Luna (

10/21/2022 – current, Master Biotechnology Thesis student

A Fun Fact: I enjoy painting, doing yoga, and traveling in my free time.

Research Interests: My main research interest is understanding the mechanisms that promote or enable cancer drug resistance.

B.S., Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, May 2020

Lab Technician


Undergraduate Students



Karen Cover (

5/1/2022 – current, Non-Thesis Masters in Biomedical Sciences

A Fun Fact: I’m a coffee lover, and enjoy gardening and reading.

Research Interests: My research interest is studying the different ways, including different pathways in which inflammation, microRNAs, and microenvironment disturbances lead to the development of lung cancer.

B.S., Biology and Minor in Health Sciences, University of Central Florida, Orlando, May 2016


Master Graduate Students
  1. Fareesa Aftab. 9/8/2020 – 6/23/2022, Master Thesis student. Current position: QC Tech Resources Specialist at Regeneron.

  1. Nicholas Skiados. 7/25/2020 – 7/30/2021, Lab technician. Current position: Biotechnology Master Thesis Graduate student in Southwell lab at UCF.
  2. Paul Joshua Anthony Corbilla. 6/15/2021 – 12/30/2021, Lab technician.
  3. Luis Silva. 6/21/2021 – 8/21/2022, Lab technician. Current position: Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student in Zhang lab at UCF.
Medical Students
  1. Yongho Park. 1/1/2022 – 10/14/2022, Medical student.
Rotation Master Students
  1. Omonzejie Emmanuel Imaralu. 9/23/2019 – 10/4/2019.
  2. Fareesa Aftab. 9/8/2020 – 9/25/2020.
  3. Alice Rodriguez. 9/6/2021 – 9/24/2021.
  4. Nikitha Murugavel. 9/6/2021 – 9/24/2021.
  5. Fahim Rejanur Tasin. 9/5/2022 – 9/23/2022.
  6. Nastassja Luna. 9/26/2022 – 10/21/2022.

Undergraduate Students

  1. Ruben Mercado Santos. 12/1/2019 – 12/31/2020, UCF undergraduate student. Current position: medical school student at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
  2. Claudia Caputo. 1/1/2021 – 4/30/2021, UCF undergraduate student.
  3. Cerena Moreno. 1/1/2020 – 11/30/2021, UCF undergraduate student.
  4. Robert Burns. 1/1/2020 – 08/31/2022, UCF undergraduate student.
  5. Jessy Ntabo. 1/1/2021 – 12/31/2022, UCF undergraduate student.