Kai Wang, PhD

Principal Scientist

Dr. Kai Wang is currently a principal scientist at Institute for Systems Biology, where he began in 2007 as a senior research scientist. He received his PhD in biochemistry from Oregon State University. He began his career in 1987 at Caltech as a research fellow in the Division of Biology. In 1992, he became the acting assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biotechnology, but left in 1995 to serve as a senior scientist and project leader for Darwin Molecular Corp/Celltech Group PLC. In 2001, he co-founded PhenoGenomics, serving as its president until he joined the Institute. His awards include first place in the psoriasis category of the 2012 Diagnostics Signature Challenge (sponsored by Philip Morris International and IBM Research), and a Northwest Cancer Partners award for the “development of a novel tubulin binding anticancer compound” in 2004. He received the Diplomate, General Toxicology certification from the American Board of Toxicology – a highly competitive certification program. He is the board director of The Chinese Institute of Engineers/USA-Seattle Chapter, as well as a national council member, a 100 year old non-profit organization.

Dr. Wang’s research interest at ISB is studying the function, trafficking and application of extracellular RNAs, including RNAs of both endogenous and exogenous origins. He and his co-workers were one of the first groups to discover stable microRNAs in the extracellular environment, and found that they are packaged in lipid vesicles as well as complexed with proteins to escape RNase degradation. Using the next generation sequencing platforms, they made a significant discovery on the complexity of end region sequence length heterogeneity for microRNAs, which may significantly increase the repertoire of microRNAs. They have conducted a comprehensive survey of circulating RNAs through sequencing and observed a significant amount of exogenous RNAs in plasma and other body fluids. Like microRNA, some of the exogenous RNAs are packaged in lipid vesicles. The group’s studies also revealed that cells in culture may pick up exogenous RNAs, incorporate them onto the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), and affect the transcriptome of the cells. These findings raise the possibility that plasma RNAs of exogenous origin may be involved in human-environmental interactions, and may affect and/or indicate the state of human health. In addition to microRNA, his research also revealed a complex spectrum of large RNA including protein coding RNAs in the extracellular space, most of these RNAs are packaged in lipid vesicles.  This may suggest the RNAs, both small and large RNAs in lipid vesicles may participate in cell-cell communication.

PhD, Biochemistry, Oregon State University, 1987

Biochemistry, molecular biology