Department of Medicine
Faculty Profiles by Division

Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

Faculty Profiles

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photo Yang Liu, PhD

Associate Professor of Bioengineering

Director, Biomedical Optical Imaging Laboratory

Member, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Insitute (UPCI)

Core faculty member, Department of Biomedical Informatics


Phone: 412-623-3751

Office: Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition
5117 Centre Ave Hillman Cancer Center 2.32
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
Phone: 412-623-3751
Fax: 412-623-7828
Education and Training
PhD, Northwestern University, 2006
MS, University of Chicago, 2001
BS, Nankai University, 1999
Postdoctoral Scientist, Johnson & Johnson, 2007
Research Interest
The laboratory of Dr. Yang Liu, and Associate Professor of Bioengineering focuses on developing personalized approaches to improve early cancer detection. Current clinical practice relies on a one-shoe-fits-all-approach, which screens the entire at-risk population to identify a small percentage of truly high-risk patients, as with colonoscopy and mammography. Frequent, invasive surveillance of patients at risk for developing cancer carries financial, physical, and emotional burdens and can do more harm than good to the patients.

Given that nuclear architecture is one of the hallmarks in cancer diagnostics, our premise is based on nanoscale nuclear architecture mapping to identify earlier and more accurate markers and understand the characteristic alteration of nanoscale (i.e., less than 100 nm) nuclear architecture in cancer initiation and progression. Current tools to visualize nuclear architecture are mostly limited to microscale.

Our multi-disciplinary team integrates optics, physics, engineering, bioinformatics, chemistry, biology and clinical medicine, and develops imaging technologies to address this highly unmet clinical need. Our current projects include: (1) Development of high-throughput, low-cost super-resolution fluorescence microscopy (e.g., STORM) system for nanoscale imaging of chromatin organization at various epigenomic states; (2) Understanding the disruption of nanoscale chromatin organization in cancer initiation and progression; (3) Clinical translation of nanoscale nuclear architecture mapping to predict risk for progression to malignancy in various pre-malignant conditions such as adenoma, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatic cyst, prostate lesions and Barrett’s esophagus.

Our technical expertise includes optical instrument development, high-speed image reconstruction algorithm development, image processing methods, single-molecule localization microscopy, quantitative phase imaging, optical coherence microscopy and light-sheet microscopy.
Educational Interest
Our laboratory provides an unique multi-disciplinary environment, ideally suited for engineering graduate students, medical students, residents and fellows who are interested in technology development (physics, electrical engineering, bioinformatics) and clinical translation of imaging technology for precision medicine.
For my complete bibliography, Click Here.
Selected Publications:
Xu J, Ma H, Jin J, Uttam S, Fu R, Huang Y, Liu Y. Super-resolution imaging of higher-order chromatin structures at different epigenomic states in single mammalian cells. Cell Reports. 2018; accepted.
Ma H, Fu R, Xu J, Liu Y. A simple and cost-effective setup for super-resolution localization microscopy. Scientific Reports. 2017; 7: 1542.
Ma H, Xu J, Jin J, Huang Y, Liu Y. A simple marker-assisted three-dimensional nanometer drift correction method for super-resolution microscopy. Biophysical Journal. 2017; 112: 2196-2208.
Uttam, S, Pham, H.V., LaFace, J., Leibowitz, B., Yu, J., Brand, R.E., Hartman, D.J., Liu, Y. Early Prediction of Cancer Progression by Depth-Resolved Nanoscale Mapping of Nuclear Architecture from Unstained Tissue Specimens. Cancer Research. 2015; 75: 4718-27.
Xu J, Ma H, Liu Y. Stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM). Current Protocols in Cytometry. 2017; 81: 12.46.1–12.46.27.
Uttam, S., Liu, Y. Fourier phase in Fourier-domain optical coherence tomography. Journal of the Optical Society of America. A, Optics, image science, and vision. 2015; 32: 2286-306.
Ma, H., Xu, J., Jin, J., Gao, Y., Lan, L., Liu, Y. Fast and precise 3D fluorophore localization based on gradient fitting. Scientific reports. 2015; 5: 14335.
Pham, H.V., Pantanowitz, L., Liu, Y. Quantitative phase imaging to improve the diagnostic accuracy of urine cytology. Cancer cytopathology. 2016; doi:10.1002/cncy.21734.
Liu ,Y., Uttam, S., Alexandrov, S., Bista, R. Investigation of nanoscale structural alterations of cell nucleus as an early sign of cancer. BMC Biophysics. 2014; 7: 1.
Sponsored Research/Activities
Title: High-Throughput Super-Resolution Imaging of Chromatin Structures at Different Epigenetic States
Role: Principal Investigator
Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute
Grant Number: R33 CA225494
Start Year: 2018
End Year: 2021
Notable Achievements
Pitt Innovator Award, 2014, 2016
Fast Tracker Award, Pittsburgh Business Times, 2014
Edmund Optics Higher Education Award, 2013
Wallace H. Coulter Phase I&II Translational Research Award, Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, 2010, 2012
Melanoma SPORE Career Development Award, 2009
Reviewer and panelist, National Science Foundation, Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Imaging Technologies, 2009-Present
Reviewers for National Institute of Health EBIT, IMAT, CMT, ISD, BDMA, Shared Instrument Grant study sections, 2015-Present
Ad hoc reviewer, National Institute of Health IMAT study section, 2015-2016