Prof. ZHU Xiaowei (朱曉維)

PhD (Yale University)

Visiting address
Phone: +852 34424264

Author IDs

Willing to take PhD students: yes
Willing to talk to media: yes


Dr. Xiaowei Zhu obtained the BSc in the Special Class for the Gifted Young at the University of Science and Technology of China in 2002. Between 2002 and 2009, he studied bioinformatics and computational biology in Yale University, and received PhD with his research on mapping biological networks using genomic and proteomic approaches. He then joined the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University for the postdoctoral research, focusing on the computational and functional analysis of somatic mutations in human brain development and neuropsychiatric disorders. Dr. Xiaowei Zhu joined City University of Hong Kong in 2022 as an assistant professor.

Research Interests/Areas

  • Design deep neural network-based frameworks to improve the detection of somatic mobile element or retrovirus insertions.
  • Evaluate the functional impact of somatic mutations in brain development and disorders.
  • Set up a high-throughput assay to establish a one-to-one relationship between individual LINE1 insertions and transcriptomic perturbations.

Psychiatric Disorders / Computational Biology / Genomics
The genetic basis for many psychiatric disorders remains elusive. We have previously identified that the highly repetitive mobile element (ME) sequences are actively jumping, and inserting into new genomic regions, during human brain development. These mobile element insertions (MEIs) therefore can disrupt genes with important brain functions and thus may contribute to the pathogenesis of neuropsychic disorders.

Due to the sequence repetitiveness and low frequency in the brain, the study of somatic MEI presents an extremely challenging signal-to-noise problem. The Zhu lab focuses on establishing a machine learning based approach, to accurately detect somatic MEIs using high throughput sequencing. We are also evaluating its application in the diagnostic genetic testing for neuropsychic disorders and other diseases such as cancer.

Furthermore, we aim to establish the definitive evidence that somatic MEI mutations can alter brain functions and contribute to disorders. We have identified highly deleterious MEI mutations in brains from patients with autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and Tourette syndrome. We will also set out a large-scale screen to systematically study their perturbations in transcriptome and proteome. This research will improve our understanding for the genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders, which will then shed light on novel treatment approaches.