Xi Huang Lab

calligraphy by Daming Huang

We do curiosity-driven science to
decode ion channel functions in brain development and cancer


Ion channels are pore-forming transmembrane proteins that regulate biological processes by controlling ion flow across cell membranes. At a cross disciplinary field, the roles of ion channels in cancer remain under-explored. Using multi-disciplinary approaches including bioinformatics, Drosophila genetics, mouse genetics, xenograft modeling, cell biology, and electrophysiology, our lab studies the mechanisms by which ion channels regulate brain development and tumourigenesis, and the therapeutic efficacy of ion channel drugs in treating brain tumours.


We are asking the following questions in the lab:


  • At the systematic level, what is the mutational landscape of ion channels in various cancer types, and how do recurrent ion channel mutations affect tumourigenesis?
  • At the cellular level, how do ion channels regulate tumour initiation, progression and metastasis in genetically tractable animal models?
  • At the molecular level, how do different ion channels form a functional network to regulate cancer cell behaviors?
  • Can we use ion channel-targeting drugs for cancer treatment?

Funding partners

Sickkids Foundation
Garron Family Cancer Centre
BTRC logo
CIHR logo
NSERC logo
Canadian Cancer Society logo
Cancer Research Society logo
American Brain Tumour Association logo
Concern Foundation logo
Meagan's Walk logo
Brainchild logo
RDMM logo
US DoD logo
Canada Research Chair logo
The Sontag Foundation


Xi Huang, Ph.D.

Canada Research Chair – Cancer Biophysics

Scientist – Developmental & Stem Cell Biology Program

Scientist – Arthur & Sonia Labatt Brain Tumour Research Centre

Assistant Professor – Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto

Michelle FranciscoMichelle Francisco, M.Sc.

Lab Manager




M.Sc. in Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
B.Sc. (Honours) in Microbiology, University of Manitoba

Xin ChenXin Chen, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow




PhD – Institute of Neuroscience, Shanghai Institute of Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Rochelle McAdamRochelle McAdam, B.Sc.

Graduate Student
Department of Molecular Genetics
Co-supervised by Dr. Peter Dirks


B.Sc. – Specialization in Life Sciences, Department of Pathology & Molecular Medicine, Queen’s University

Jerry FanJerry Fan, B.Sc.

Graduate Student
Department of Molecular Genetics



B.Sc. – Department of Pharmacology, McGill University

Weifan DongWeifan Dong, B.Sc.

Graduate Student
Department of Molecular Genetics



B.Sc. –  Institute of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University

Ali Momin, B.Sc.

Graduate Student
Department of Molecular Genetics


B.Sc. –  Specialization in Biology, Department of Cell & Systems Biology, University of Toronto

Nicolaes Min B.Sc.

Graduate Student
Department of Molecular Genetics


B.Sc. – Specialization in Biochemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto

Namal Abeysundara, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow
Co-supervised by Dr. Michael Taylor


PhD – Medical Sciences, Department of Medical Genetics, University of Alberta

Jade Chan B.Sc.

Graduate Student
Department of Molecular Genetics
Co-supervised by Dr. C.C. Hui


B.Sc. – Co-operative Program, Major: Honours Psychology, Minor: Biology, University of Waterloo

Siyi Wang, M.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow
Co-supervised by Dr. Xuejun Li


MD – Department of Neurosurgery, Xiangya Hospital, Central South University, China

Shahrzad Bahrampour - Research FellowShahrzad Bahrampour, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow


PhD – Medical Science, Linköping University

Miranda Li - Research FellowMiranda Li, B.Sc. in Progress

Research Student


Cell & Molecular Biology, University of Toronto

Tianhe Li - Research StudentTianhe Li, B.Sc. in Progress

Research Student


Neuroscience, McMaster University

Sarah Chang - Research StudentSarah Chang, B.Sc. in Progress

Research Student


Honours Life Science Co-op, McMaster

Zaleena AkheralieZaleena Akheralie, B.Sc. 



B.Sc. – Molecular Biology and Chemistry, University of Toronto

Athulya AjithAthulya Ajith, B.Sc. in Progress



Life Sciences, University of Toronto


2015 – Present (The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto)
  • Wang YA, Li XL, Mo YZ, Fan CM, Tang L, Xiong F, Guo C, Xiang B, Zhou M, Ma J, Huang X, Wu X, Li Y, Li GY, Zeng ZY, Xiong W (2018) Effects of tumor metabolic microenvironment on regulatory T cells. Mol Cancer. 17(1):168. PMID:30477520


  • Chen X, Wanggou S, Bodalia A, Zhu M, Dong W, Fan JJ, Yin WC, Min HK, Hu M, Draghici D, Dou W, Li F, Coutinho FJ, Whetstone H, Kushida MM, Dirks PB, Song Y, Hui CC, Sun Y, Wang LY, Li X, and Huang X (2018) A feedforward mechanism mediated by mechanosensitive ion channel PIEZO1 and tissue mechanics promotes glioma aggression. Neuron, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2018.09.046. PMID:30344046

        Video abstract: How brain tumors stiffen and grow

        Preview: Unlocking the dangers of a stiffening brain

        F1000Prime Recommended

Media coverage:

May the force not be with you SickKids NewsCancer Stem Cell News

Researchers find a new way to address the challenge of brain tumour “stiffness” OICR News

调节肿瘤组织机械特性或可成为肿瘤治疗新方式 Sohu News (by BioArt)


  • Frattini V, Pagnotta SM, Tala, Fan JJ, Russo MV, Lee SB, Garofano L, Zhang J, Shi P, Lewis G, Sanson H, Frederick V, Cerulo L, Rolland DCM, Mall R, Mokhtari K, Elenitoba-Johnson KSJ, Sanson M, Huang X, Ceccarelli M, Lasorella A, Iavarone A (2018) A metabolic function of FGFR3-TACC3 gene fusions in cancer. Nature. 553, 222–227. PMID:29323298


  • Park NI, Guilhamon P, Desai K, McAdam RF, Langille E, O’Connor M, Lan X, Whetstone H, Coutinho FC, Vanner RJ, Ling E, Prinos P, Lee L, Selvadurai, H, Atwal G, Kushida M, Clarke ID, Voisin V, Cusimano MD, Bernstein M, Das S, Bader G, Arrowsmith CH, Angers S, Huang X, Lupien M, Dirks PB. (2017) ASCL1 reorganizes chromatin to direct neuronal fate and suppress tumorigenicity. Cell Stem Cell, 21(2):209-224.e7. PMID: 28712938


  • Agnihotri S, Golbourn B, Huang X, Remke M, Younger S, Cairns RA, Chalil A, Smith CA, Krumholtz SL, MacKenzie D, Rakopoulos P, Ramaswamy V, Taccone MS, Mischel PS, Fuller GN, Hawkins C, Stanford WL, Taylor MD, Zadeh G, Rutka JT. (2016) PINK1 is a Negative Regulator of Growth and the Warburg Effect in Glioblastoma. Cancer Res., 76(16):4708-19. PMID: 2732564


  • Morrissy AS*, Garzia L*, Shih DJH, Zuyderduyn S, Huang X, Skowron P, Remke M, Cavalli FMG, Ramaswamy V, Lindsay P, Jelveh S, Donovan LK, Wang X, Luu B, Zayne K, Li Y, Mayoh C, Thiessen N, Mercier E, Mungall KL, Yusanne M, Tse K, Zeng T, Shumansky K, Roth AJL, Shah S, Farooq H, Kijima N, Holgado BL, Lee JJY, Matan-Lithwick S, Liu J, Mack SC, Manno A, Michaelraj KA, Nor C, Peacock J, Qin L, Reimand J, Rolider A, Thompson YY, Wu X, Pugh T, Ally A, Bilenky M, Butterfied YSN, Carlsen R, Cheng Y, Chuah E, Corbett RD, Dhalla N, He A, Lee D, Li HI, Long W, Mayo M, Plettner P, Qian JQ, Schein JE, Tam A, Wong T, Birol I, Zhao Y, Faria CC, Pimentel J, Bendel AE, Fults DW, Walter AW, Kumabe T, Tominaga T, Collins VP, Cho YJ, Hoffman C, Lyden D, Wisoff J, Garvin JH, Stearns DS, Massimi L, Schuller U, Sterba J, Zitterbart K, Puget S, Ayrault O, Dunn SE, Tirapelli DPC, Carlotti CG, Wheeler H, Hallahan AR, Ingram W, MacDonald TJ, Olson JJ, Van Meir EG, Lee JY, Wang KC, Kim SK, Cho BK, Pietsch T, Fleischack G, Tippelt S, Ra YS, Bailey S, Lindsay JC, Clifford SC, Eberhart CG, Cooper MK, Packer R, Massimino M, Garre ML, Bartels U, Tabori U, Hawkins C, Dirks P, Bouffet E, Rutka JT, Wechsler-Reya RJ, Weiss WA, Collier LS, Dupuy AJ, Korshunov A, Jones DTW, Kool M, Northcott PA, Pfister SM, Largaespada DA, Mungall AJ, Moore RA, Jabado N, Bader GD, Jones JM, Malkin D, Marra MA#. Taylor MD#. (2016) Divergent Clonal Selection Drives Medulloblastoma at Recurrence. Nature, 529, 351–357 (* contributed equally, # co-corresponding authors). PMID: 26760213
2010 – 2015 (University of California, San Francisco)
  • Huang X*, He Y*, Dubuc AM*, Hashizume R, Zhang W, Reimand J, Yang H, Wang TA, Stehbens S, Younger S, Barshow S, Zhu S, Cooper MK, Peacock J, Ramaswamy V, Garzia L, Wu X, Remke M, Forester CM, Kim CC, Weiss WA, James CD, Shuman MA, Bader GD, Mueller S, Taylor MD, Jan YN, Jan LY. (2015) EAG2 potassium channel with evolutionarily conserved function as a brain tumor target. Nat. Neurosci. 18(9): 1236-46. (* contributed equally) PMID: 26258683

Editorial highlights:

Channeling brain cancer. Sci. Signal.  (2015): 8 (392), ec245

Therapy: Reinventing the wheel. Nature Reviews Cancer (2015): 15, 514

EAG2 potassium channel: A new regulator of malignancy and therapeutic target in medulloblastoma Neuro-Oncology (2015) 17(12), 1547

Voltage spikes driving medulloblastoma. Cancer Res (2015): 75, 4439

Media coverage:

Common class of “channel blocking” drugs may find a role in cancer therapy ScienceDailyEurekaAlert!Technology NetworksNewswiseHealthCanal, UCSF News

Potassium Channel Blockers Show Promise as Treatment for Brain Tumors OncoTherapy Network

Targeting an Ion Channel to Treat Common Pediatric Brain Tumor Northwestern University News

Ion Channels May Play a Role in a New Generation of Cancer Therapies Icagen


  • Song Y, Sretavan D, Salegio E, Berg J, Huang X, Cheng T, Xiong X, Meltzer S, Han C, Nguyen TT, Bresnahan JC, Beattie MS, Jan LY, Jan YN. (2015) Regulation of axon regeneration by the RNA repair and splicing pathway. NatNeurosci. 18(6): 817-25. PMID: 25961792


  • Hashizume R, Andor N, Ihara Y, Lerner R, Gan H, Chen X, Fang D, Huang X, Tom MW, Ngo V, Solomon D, Mueller S, Paris PL, Zhang Z, Petritsch C, Gupta N, Waldman TA, James CD. (2014) Pharmacologic inhibition of histone demethylation as a therapy for pediatric brainstem glioma. Nat Med. (12): 1394-1396. PMID: 25401693


  • Huang X# and Jan LY#. (2014) Targeting potassium channels in cancer. J Cell Biol. 206(2): 151-62. (# co-corresponding authors) PMID: 25049269


  • Huang X, Dubuc AM, Hashizume R, Berg J, He Y, Wang J, Chiang C, Cooper MK, Northcott PA, Taylor MD, Barnes MJ, Tihan T, Chen J, Hackett CS, Weiss WA, James CD, Rowitch DH, Shuman MA, Jan YN, Jan LY. (2012) Voltage-gated potassium channel EAG2 controls mitotic entry and tumor growth in medulloblastoma via regulating cell volume dynamics. Genes Dev. 15; 26(16): 1780-96. (Cover Article) PMID: 22855790

Editorial highlights:

Medulloblastoma: Pump up the volume. Nature Reviews Cancer, 12, 583

Targeting ion channels. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, 19, 867

Ion Channel Activity Promotes Mitotic Entry and Tumor Cell Growth. Cancer Discovery, 2, 763


  • Cheng FY*, Huang X*, Sarangi A, Ketova T, Cooper MK, Litingtung Y, Chiang C. (2012) Widespread contribution of Gdf7 lineage to cerebellar cell types and implications for Hedgehog-driven medulloblastoma formation PLoS ONE, 7(4): e35541. (* contributed equally) PMID: 22539980
2004 – 2010 (Vanderbilt University)
  • Huang X, Liu J, Ketova T, Fleming JT, Grover VK, Cooper MK, Litingtung Y, Chiang C. (2010) Transventricular delivery of Sonic hedgehog is essential to cerebellar ventricular zone development. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 107(18): 8422-7. PMID: 20400693


  • Huang X, Sarangi A, Ketova T, Litingtung Y, Cooper MK, Chiang C. (2010) Intracranial orthotopic allografting of medulloblastoma cells in immunocompromised mice. J Vis Exp. (44). pii: 2153. PMID: 20972404


  • Huang X, Ketova T, Litingtung Y, Chiang C. (2010) Isolation, enrichment and maintenance of medulloblastoma stem cells. J Vis Exp. (43). pii: 2086. PMID: 20834221


  • Huang X, Ketova T, Fleming JT, Wang H, Dey SK, Litingtung Y, Chiang C. (2009) Sonic hedgehog signaling regulates a novel epithelial progenitor domain of the hindbrain choroid plexus. Development. 136(15): 2535-43. PMID: 19570847

Editorial highlight:

Shh, choroid plexus growth in progress. Development (2009) 136: e1502


  • Oh S*, Huang X*, Liu J, Litingtung Y, Chiang C. (2009) Shh and Gli3 activities are required for timely generation of motor neuron progenitors. Developmental Biology. 331(2): 261-9. (* contributed equally) PMID: 19433083


  • Huang X*, Goudy SL*, Ketova T, Litingtung Y, Chiang C. (2008) Gli3-deficient mice exhibit cleft palate associated with abnormal tongue development. Dev Dyn. 237(10): 3079-87 (* contributed equally) PMID: 18816854


  • Fogel JL, Chiang C, Huang X, Agarwala S. (2008) Ventral specification and perturbed boundary formation in the mouse midbrain in the absence of Hedgehog signaling. Dev Dyn. 237(5): 1359-72. PMID: 18429041


  • Huang X, Litingtung Y, Chiang C. (2007) Region-specific requirement for cholesterol modification of sonic hedgehog in patterning the telencephalon and spinal cord. Development. 134(11): 2095-10 PMID: 17507410


  • Huang X, Litingtung Y, Chiang C. (2007) Ectopic sonic hedgehog signaling impairs telencephalic dorsal midline development: implication for human holoprosencephaly. Hum Mol Genet. 16(12): 1454-68. PMID: 17468181


  • Oh S, Huang X, Chiang C. (2005) Specific requirements of sonic hedgehog signaling during oligodendrocyte development. Dev Dyn. 234(3): 489-96. PMID: 15880651

Lab Socials

Lab Tour

Be part of our team

We always wish to hear from talented candidates who are interested in joining our lab.

There are two priorities in the Huang lab:

1. Performing mechanistic studies to discover the unknown functions of ion channels during development and tumourigenesis

2. Realizing the best potential and fostering the career development of all lab members

Before every lab member joins, both scientific and career goals will be discussed with the PI, and a plan to achieve these goals will be laid out. Both postdoctoral fellows and graduate students will be able to choose from a number of projects depending on his/her interests, and they are encouraged to test their own ideas and develop new directions.

Postdoctoral fellows are expected to independently lead projects with input from the PI and other lab members. While graduate students will initially work closely with the PI and senior members in the lab, they will also be fostered to develop independence and become the pilots of their projects.

Besides the general lab duties, lab manager and research assistants are also encouraged to take on scientific projects depending on his/her interests and talents. Everyone is expected to work smart and do the best science, and the PI will make every effort to develop a collegial lab environment and promote the professional growth of all lab members. 

The lab succeeds when its members succeed!

Prospective postdoctoral fellows can apply directly by sending their CV and cover letter outlining their research interests to Dr. Huang


Individuals interested in joining the lab as a graduate student must be admitted to the graduate program in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto


Undergraduate students can join the lab as long as they are enrolled in any department at a recognized university

Contact information

Dr. Xi Huang



Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning

686 Bay Street, Room 16.9704

Toronto, ON M5G 0A4

Office: (416) 813-7654 Ext: 309526

Main Lab: 16.9420 (Ext: 309527)

Fly Lab: 15.9400 (Ext: 309528)

Ms. Alicia Campbell

Administrative Assistant to Dr. Xi Huang


Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning

686 Bay Street, 16.9801-U1

Toronto, ON M5G 0A4

(416) 813-7654 Ext: 309120