Graduate School of Medical Sciences
A partnership with the Sloan Kettering Institute

Xiaolan Zhao

Dr. Xiaolan Zhao Headshot
The Zhao Lab studies how cells prevent disease-causing genetic alterations by faithfully replicating and repairing the genome, using intricate signaling system to copy with environmental changes, and dynamically regulating chromosome structures.


Genome replication, repair, and damage response, collectively called the 3Rs, support genetic stability and faithful inheritance. Proteins involved in the 3Rs are genome guardians that prevent a broad spectrum of diseases, ranging from cancers, immunological and neurodegenerative diseases, to developmental disorders such as diabetes and premature aging. Our lab investigates 3R mechanisms, 3R protein functions and structures, and their link to human disease. Our main research interests include: 

  • Mechanisms of chromosomal duplication during growth and under stress conditions that mimic carcinogenic exposure or chemotherapeutic treatment. 

  • DNA repair processes that restore genetic information perturbed by a variety of DNA lesions arising from genotoxic exposures or oncogenic situations. 

  • The DNA damage response systems that monitor genome lesion burdens and deploy protein-modification based signaling pathways to induce multi-faceted physiological changes, ranging from metabolic and epigenetic changes, cell cycle delays, to chromosomal organization and maintenance adjustments. 

To illuminate 3R processes and genome guardian functions, we implement cutting-edge and multi-disciplinary approaches, including genetic, biochemical, cell biological, structural, single molecular, and genomic strategies. Our broad research scope and approaches provide lab members ample opportunities to explore and discover new biological principles. Our lab also offers a nurturing and supportive environment with tailored mentoring and training to advance lab members’ abilities in research, writing, presentation, and leadership. Some of our research focuses driven by graduate students, postdocs, and undergraduate researchers are highlighted in the Current Projects section. Please visit ourpublication site for further details. 

Current Projects:

  • Mechanisms Governing Genome Duplication to prevent genetic changes. 
  • Recombinational Repair and Its Interface with Replication. 
  • Smc5/6 Structures, Functions, and Disease Links.  
  • SUMO-Based DNA Damage Response. 
  • Kinase-based DNA Damage Response. 


Dr. Zhao received her B.S. & M.S. degrees in Plant Physiology & Biochemistry from Peking University. She earned her Ph. D degree in Genetics under the mentorship of Dr. Rodney Rothstein at Columbia University in 2000. She pursued her postdoctoral research in the Cell Biology lab led by Dr. Gunter Blobel at Rockefeller University. Dr. Zhao established her lab in the Molecular Biology Program in Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in 2005 and has been a Full Member since 2016. Dr. Zhao is an active member on grant review panels, editorial boards of biologic journals, within research communities, and graduate and postdoctoral training. 


  • Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Postdoctoral Fellowship  
  • Samuel Rover and Lewis Rover Award for Scholarship and Proficiency in Genetics & Development, 
  • Dean's Award for Excellence in Research  
  • Alfred W. Bressler Scholar  
  • American Cancer Society Research Scholar 
  • Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Scholar 
  • Basic Research Innovation Awardee  
  • Maximizing Investigators' Research Awardee 

Current Areas of Focus

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