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Jiayu Liao

Assistant Professor of Bioengineering
Jiayu Liao
Drug Discovery and Diabetes-fighting Molecule
Over two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, putting them at high risk for developing diabetes. Researchers in Liao’s lab have discovered a small molecule that stimulates insulin function when high levels of glucose are present and reduces body weight by 20 percent. This paves the way for the creation of a drug that can control both diabetes and obesity.

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Outstanding Overseas Scholar, Chinese Natural Science Foundation (2006)
  • BaiYulan Award, Shanghai Government (2006)
  • UC Regent's Faculty Development Award (2006)


Q: What are the big challenges in your field of research?
A grand challenge for the worldwide biomedical community over the last decade has been the search for the small molecular agonist for GLP1 receptor, shown to control diabetes in mice. It was generally regarded as an impossible task. We recently demonstrated its existence. This molecule, identified as Boc5, can stimulate insulin function in response to high levels of glucose, as well as reduce body weight by 20 percent. This type of research has been very challenging but would lead to significant benefits for diabetes and possibly obesity patients.

Q: How does your research benefit society?
We are interested in developing new technologies that will be useful for the biotechnology/biopharmaceutical industry. For example, we are developing rapid drug screening tests using fluorescence-based Förster resonance energy transfer technology (FRET). Our goal is for our research and new technologies to be applied to the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes, cancer and infectious diseases.

Q: How are you bringing research from your lab to commercial and/or everyday use?
I have a start-up company now which is focusing on bringing research ideas from the lab to commercialization in the form of new medicines. We are also in the process of spinning another company from UCR for the commercialization of technologies developed in my lab. These technologies will bring new diagnostic and drug discovery tools to human healthcare in the future.

Q: How do your students inspire you?
In the last few years, I have had six post-doctoral and graduate students and more than twenty five undergraduate students from either bioengineering or other majors in my lab. They are very smart and hard-working students. Some of my graduate students developed mathematic and practical methodologies in our quantitative FRET assays for protein-protein interactions and protease assays which were novel methodologies. The post-doc student developed robust bioconjugation technology for protein chip development. My undergraduates who developed high-throughput screening kits have been accepted by top graduate and medical schools and received job offers from industry.

Q: What advice do you have for students graduating in the next five years?
Facing various challenges in the current environment, students need to prepare themselves not only for academic degrees but also personal characteristics to deal with challenges in their future careers. The scientific knowledge and skills learned here will provide a strong background. However, that is not enough. Students need to develop the courage to take on any new challenge in both scientific and non-scientific settings.

Q: What is it about UCR that makes this a great place to do your research?
UCR is part of the world-renowned first class University of California, a premier place to conduct research. I have been given a free environment to develop my new technologies and bring them to maturity. I also have opportunities to participate in high profile UC system-wide research activities, such as the annual UC System-wide Biomedical Engineering Symposium and the UC Discovery grant. My research is respected not only by colleagues across the country and the world, but also across the UCR campus.
Jiayu Liao “Our work provides unique and robust technologies for many research and industrial applications, opening doors to new avenues of research and drug discovery for the future of human healthcare.”

—Jiayu Liao
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