Primary Research Focus
The Tao Lab focuses on understanding the basic mechanisms underlying pathophysiological osteoblast function to effectively treat skeletal diseases like inborn osteosclerosis and osteosarcoma as well as to guide therapies like bone regeneration.
Skeletal NOTCH proteins regulate embryogenesis and play a critical role in osteoblast function and in skeletal development and homeostasis. Pathological notch signaling has emerged as a critical disease-mechanism for skeletal diseases.
The lab’s main goal is to dissect molecular mechanisms underlying NOTCH-related skeletal diseases, particularly within the setting of pathological osteoblast functions.
Dr. Tao’s research may provide novel mechanistic insights into the pathogenesis of skeletal diseases, explore regulatory and biochemical mechanisms in molecular detail in vivo, and open new opportunities for effective treatments of the diseases.
About the Tao Lab
Lab Projects and News
National Institute of Health Grant
Project Title: Dissecting of developmental signaling pathways in bone development and osteosarcoma
Role: Project Principal Investigator
This is an investigation of the role of driver-regulated developmental signaling pathways in the formation and maintenance of bone cancer stem cells and metastasis.
National Science Foundation Grant
Project Title: MRI: Acquisition of a Micro-CT system for 3D tissue and materials structure analysis
Role: Project Co-Principal Investigator
The objective of this project is to maintain a high-resolution, non-destructive 3-dimensional specimen micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) imaging instrument to study the structure of 3-dimensional biomaterials as well as animal and plant tissues for science research and education in South Dakota.
Meet the Tao Team
Haydee Torres, PhD Candidate
Haydee Torres joined the Tao Lab in 2018 to investigate novel Notch interacting partners that are critical for the formation of Notch nuclear complexes and examine the roles of these effectors in osteosarcoma initiation, progression and metastasis in mouse models of human skeletal disease.
Torres is currently a Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry at South Dakota State University. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Villanova University as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from St. Thomas University.
Yuxia Cao, MD
Senior Research Specialist
Dr. Yuxia Cao joined the Tao lab in 2020 to investigate the molecular and biochemical mechanisms in skeletal diseases including osteosarcoma. She designs and conducts experiments in vitro and in vivo, as well as in mouse models of human diseases. She also assists with general laboratory duties. Prior to coming to Sanford, Dr. Cao was a research assistant professor of medicine at the Boston University studying epigenetic modifications and transcriptional regulation in lung development and disease.
Dr. Yuxia Cao holds a MD degree from the Wannan Medical College and a master’s degree in biochemistry from the Tongji Medical University. She performed postdoctoral training at the Boston University School of Medicine.
Leetoria Hinojosa, MS
Leetoria Hinojosa joined the Tao lab in 2020 to assist the team in its research on human bone cancer cells and congenital skeletal disease. She studies how tumor suppressor gene TP53 and NOTCH/WNT signaling pathway interactions may contribute to tumor initiation and cancer metastasis.
Leetoria holds both of her degrees in biology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2018 and a Master’s degree in 2020. Her thesis was focused on investigating the localization of FOXO transcription factors in Glioblastoma cancer cells.
Sanford SPUR Scholar Intern
Dakota Callahan joined the Tao Lab through the SPUR program in the summer of 2019. His work supports projects focusing on the efficacy of inhibitors of genetic and epigenetic regulators that can interact with Notch signaling in human and murine osteosarcoma cancer stem cells.
Callahan is currently an undergraduate at the University of Sioux Falls majoring in biology.
Tao Lab Alumni
- Ashley VanCleave - Research Specialist in Tao lab from 2017-2020. Current: PhD Graduate student at Pennsylvania State University
- Tania Rodezno - Research Associate Specialist in Tao lab from 2019-2020. Current: PhD Graduate student at University of Alberta
- Fang Fang, PhD – Postdoctoral Fellow in Tao Lab from 2015-2019. Current: Human Genome Scientist at Fulgent Genetics LLC
- Dakota Callahan – 2019 BRIN Scholar summer student from the University of Sioux Falls
- Josephine Conn – 2019 SPUR Scholar summer student from the Carleton College
- Mykayla Palmer – 2019 Medical Student Research Program (MSRP) Scholar summer student from the medical school of the University of South Dakota
- Anthony Restaino – 2019 Child Health Innovative Research program (CHIRP) Scholar summer student from the medical school of the University of South Dakota
- Austyn Smithback – 2019 Sanford PROMISE Scholar summer student from the Harrisburg High School
- Mykayla Palmer – 2018 SPUR Scholar summer student from the University of South Dakota
- Collin Sorensen – 2018 BRIN Scholar summer student from the Mount Marty College
- Eric Fogarty – 2017 PhD Rotation Graduate Student from basic biological sciences program at University of South Dakota
- Ralph Helmuth – 2017 BRIN Scholar summer student from the Dakota Wesleyan University, and 2017-2018 SPUR Scholar student part-time intern
- Kirby Rickel – Research Associate in Tao lab from 2015-2017. Current: Ph.D. Graduate student at University of South Dakota
- Baylee Slevira – 2017 SPUR Scholar summer student from the Beloit College.
- Paige Bosshardt – 2016 Sanford Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) Scholar summer student from the University of Northwestern St. Paul
- Kaitlyn Dorn – 2016 BRIN Scholar summer student from the Augustana University
- Eric Fogarty – 2016 PhD Rotation Graduate Student from basic biological sciences program at University of South Dakota
- Shimara Gunawardana – 2016 PhD rotation student from biochemistry program at the South Dakota State University.