We study the structural and molecular mechanisms of human diseases of global health concern, including viral infections and cancer.

Our primary research focuses on the invasion mechanisms of viruses. We investigate the structures and functions of virus surface proteins that mediate receptor recognition and cell entry of viruses.

Another area of our research explores the structural and molecular mechanisms of cancer and other human diseases. Specifically, we examine the structures and functions of human cell surface proteins that are critical for disease mechanisms.

Building on these structural and functional studies, we develop novel preventive and therapeutic strategies against human diseases.

Our research tools include X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, protein biochemistry, molecular biology, vaccine design, and drug discovery.


Professor Li is a leading researcher in the coronavirus entry field. He has conducted pioneering work on the cell entry mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19), SARS-CoV-1 (responsible for the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic), and other coronaviruses. His group has determined many structures of coronavirus invasion proteins and uncovered many molecular mechanisms by which coronaviruses infect host cells. His research has laid the foundation for the structural biology of coronavirus entry and has been a major driving force behind our current understanding of receptor recognition and cell entry of coronaviruses.

Professor Li's research on COVID-19 has uncovered critical molecular mechanisms by which SARS-CoV-2 infects human cells while evading immunity and has provided insights into the evolutionary origins of the virus. His work has laid the molecular foundation that has guided the global effort against the pandemic.

Currently, Professor Li and his team are developing novel therapeutics against emerging viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 and Ebola, as well as other human diseases such as cancer. His long-term goal is to apply innovative structural biology approaches to address important global health challenges.

U researchers make key COVID-19 virus discoveries



 SARS and SARS2 coronas in the sky

 SARS corona in the sky

 SARS protein attaching to a host cell receptor

 CCA-adding enzyme in sunset

 CCA-adding enzyme crystallized

 NL63 in snowland

 MHV down the autumn path

 APN in moonlight

 MERS and HKU4 on the beach

 MERS vaccine in the lake

 IBV in the woods

 MHV on the beach


 SARS is blue (mov file; 14 MB)

 The tale of SARS and NL63 (mov file; 11 MB)

 CCA ocean (mov file; 39 MB)

Plasmids: We are sharing COVID-19-related plasmids with the scientific community through Addgene.