Born and raised in Northeast China, Dr. Xinna Li, Assistant Research Scientist in the Department of Pathology, has always been passionate about helping others. Her journey began with a childhood fascination with medicine. “I remember as a very young child, bandaging a cut on my brother’s leg. Then, as a teen, my cousin became very ill and I observed how medical treatment could cure illnesses. That is when I realized that I wanted to be a doctor,” recounted Li. Driven by the desire to make a difference, she pursued a medical degree in pediatric hematology from China Medical graduating in 1994. Working at a hospital, she cared for children diagnosed with leukemias, lymphomas, multiple myeloma, and other diseases. “I treated these children with chemotherapy and radiation, and they still died,” Li explained. She yearned for a way to improve their chances of survival.
Determined to find solutions, Li pursued a PhD in molecular biology, which she completed in 2004. In 2002, she migrated to the United States as a Research Fellow under Dr. Roman Dizarski at Indiana University. There, she delved into innate immunity research and mentored undergraduate students. Seeking a vibrant Asian community, she accepted an opportunity to work in Dr. Richard Miller’s laboratory in the Department of Pathology at the University of Michigan in 2008. Over the years, Li’s dedication and success in the Miller Lab led to her promotion as Assistant Research Scientist in 2012.
The Miller Lab focuses on unraveling ways to slow aging processes in mice and potentially extend healthy human lifespan. Li has played a significant role in this research, having published nineteen research articles. Some noteworthy findings from her work include:
Li’s dedication to the next generation of scientists is seen in her work with the undergraduate students in the laboratory, as she helps guide them in their career aspirations. Those interested in working with patients and learning more about diagnostics she guides toward medical school. She encourages those passionate about research and discovery to pursue academic research careers, emphasizing the importance of staying informed through reading scientific literature. “I read at least 10 publications a day to keep abreast of the most recent research findings. I examine the data to be sure these are well-done studies and consider how the findings from the best studies could inform my research direction,” explained Li. She credits her mentor, Dr. Roman Dizarski, who practiced the same discipline. “He told me that I have to critically read at least 10 publications daily if I wanted to be a successful scientist.” From her examination of the literature, Li is inspired in her research direction. “I like to pick something that no one else is doing.”
Despite language barriers as a non-native English speaker, Li strives for clear communication. “I know my language is not perfect. I try to speak clearly and write well. I have colleagues who support me in this, but that is my biggest challenge. People don’t always understand me clearly. Reading the literature also helps me with my English.” Attending Asian Scientific Conferences allows her to connect with her heritage and engage with others in her native Chinese language.
Li finds great joy in her research. “If I could give a person a longer, healthier life, that would be very good. Not just long life without a memory, but a long, healthy life.” The lab’s findings on the potential of certain drugs, like Acarbose and Metformin, and the benefits of maintaining good body condition through caloric restriction and exercise offer hope for improved lifespan and cognitive function.
Outside of work, Li enjoys running, cooking, drawing, and traveling. “I run for one hour every day, and I have done so for 20 years,” said Li. She derives immense pleasure from cooking authentic foods, expressing herself through art, and exploring new cultures during her travels. She cherishes time spent with her husband and their son, who is pursuing studies at MIT, and looks forward to visiting her 86-year-old father in China.