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Nikki L. Cheng, PhD

Nikki Cheng portrait
Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Fennik Life Sciences

Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Professional Background

My laboratory seeks to understand the role of inflammation in breast cancer, particularly how chemokines (CCL2, CXCL1) regulate early and late breast cancer progression through stromal dependent mechanisms. Our longterm goals are to identify new biomarkers for improved diagnosis and treatment of invasive breast cancer. Through my training periods, I gained a firm research background in signal transduction, breast cancer biology and the tumor microenvironment utilizing a combination of transgenic mouse models, transplantation mouse models, 2D and 3D cell culture systems and biochemical approaches. My graduate studies and postdoctoral fellowship involved studying the mechanisms of tumor angiogenesis and fibrosis in breast cancer. During this time, I collaborated with researchers from within and from outside institutions including Exelixis Inc. and published in respected peer reviewed journals including Cancer Research and Oncogene. I developed skills in forming collaborative relationships and conducting independent research, which provided a firm foundation for my career as an independent scientist at the University of Kansas Medical Center. As an associate professor at KUMC, my research program involves investigating the role of chemokine signal transduction, tumor microenvironment on breast cancer progression.

Education and Training
  • BS, Biochemistry, Beloit Col.
  • PhD, Cancer Biology, Vanderbilt Univ.
  • Post Doctoral Fellowship, cancer biology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
Professional Affiliations
  • BioKansas, poster judge for BioKS, Ad-Hoc Member, 2021 - 2021
  • BioKansas, BioKansas, Member, 2020 - Present
  • American Cancer Society, Cell Structure and Metastasis Study Section, Chair, 2019 - 2020
  • American Cancer Society, Theory Lab, ACS Online Community Forum participant, 2019 - 2019
  • American Cancer Society, Mission Boost Funding Mechanism, Ad-Hoc Member, 2019 - 2019
  • Sustainable Heartland Accelerator Regional Partnership Hub, SHARPhub, Member, 2019 - Present
  • American Cancer Society, ACS ad hoc member, review board for the ACS Research Professorship, Ad-Hoc Member, 2018 - 2019



Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in women, with over 1.3 million new cases diagnosed annually in the world. Despite advances in treatment, disease recurrence remains high, up to 56% for patients diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. Metastatic occurrence often accompanies disease relapse, contributing to an 80% mortality rate, and estimated 450,000 deaths worldwide. Treatment of breast cancer is complicated by the presence of different molecular subtypes including Luminal A, Luminal B, Her2 overexpressing (Her2+) and Basal-like breast cancers. The mechanisms that regulate progression of these breast cancer subtypes still remain poorly understood. The long-term goals of our research program are to understand the role of and mechanisms of inflammation in early and late stage breast cancer progression, and identify new biomarkers to prevent or treat invasive breast cancer.

Recent Publications
Gage Brummer, Wei Fang, Curtis Smart, Brandon Zinda, Nadia Alissa, Cory Berkland, David Miller, Nikki Cheng, CCR2 signaling in breast carcinoma cells promotes tumor growth and invasion by promoting CCL2 and suppressing CD154 effects on the angiogenic and immune microenvironments. 2020 Mar;39(11):2275-2289. doi: 10.1038/s41388-019-1141-7. Epub 2019 Dec 11. PMC7071973.

Qingting Hu, Megan Meyers, Wei Fang, Min Yao, Gage Brummer, Justin Hawj, Nikki Cheng. Role of ALDH1A1 and HTRA2 expression in CCL2/CCR2-mediated breast cancer cell growth and invasion. Biol Open. 2019 Jun 28;8(7) DOI:10.1242/bio.040873 PMC6679398

Min Yao, Wei Fang, Curtis Smart, Qingting Hu, Shixia Huang, Nehemiah Alvarez, Patrick Fields, Nikki Cheng. CCR2 chemokine receptors enhance growth and cell cycle progression of breast cancer cells through SRC and PKC activation. Molecular Cancer Research, DOI: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-18-0750 Published OnlineFirst. November 16, 2018. PMC6359961

Jacob New,Vikalp Vishwakarma, Dhruv Kumar, Vusala Snyder,.Levi Arnold, Emily Nissen; Qinting Hu; Nikki Cheng, David Miller, Yelizaveta Shnayder,Kiran Kakarala, Terance Tsue, Douglas Girod, Sufi Thomas. Potent Antitumor Effects of a Combination of Three Nutraceutical Compounds. Scientific Reports.2018. 8:12163 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-29683-1. PMC6093880