Departmental Research

Urology Research Faculty

Philip Beachy, Ph.D.

Professor of Urology
Professor of Developmental Biology

My lab studies the function of Hedgehog proteins and other extracellular signals in morphogenesis (pattern formation) and in injury repair and regeneration (pattern maintenance). We study how the distribution of such signals is regulated in tissues, how cells perceive and respond to distinct concentrations of signals, and how such signaling pathways arose in evolution. We also study the normal roles of such signals in stem-cell physiology and their abnormal roles in the formation and expansion of cancer stem cells.


James Brooks, MD

Professor and Vice-Chair of Urology
Chief of Urologic Oncology

Our interest is in developing diagnostic and prognostic markers for urological diseases. Our work spans discovery, measurement methodologies, and clinical validation of candidate biomarkers. We have primarily used genomic and proteomic approaches for biomarker discovery. While our primary focus has been in prostate cancer, we have also worked in kidney cancer and other malignancies. We are also working to characterize the functional roles of several of the candidate biomarkers in cancer. In the past several years our work has expanded into benign urologic diseases including benign prostatic hyperplasia, obstructive nephropathy, and androgen insensitivity syndrome. In collaboration with bioengineers and radiologists, we have active research in molecular imaging, and protein and nucleotide detection on biological samples. We also participate in several large clinical trials for development, validation and implementation of clinical biomarkers in prostate cancer.


Wendy Fantl, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor (Research) of Urology 

Wendy’s passion is in the mechanistic understanding of intracellular signaling pathways, DNA damage and the host immune system and their role in malignancies with an “eye on the prize” of a clinically translational endpoint. Her current interests are to apply multi-parametric single-cell technology platforms to identify disease-causing cell subpopulations in ovarian cancer and other malignancies.


John Leppert, MD, MS

Associate Professor of Urology
Director of Urologic Oncology (VAPAHCS)

Our research aims to improve the global quality of care for patients with Urologic Cancer with a particular focus on kidney cancer. We are investigating novel proteomic platforms and assays to diagnose kidney cancer and predict response to therapy. We are evaluating the comparative effectiveness of various kidney cancer surgeries and their impact on chronic kidney disease and its downstream effects. We are applying epidemiology, bioinformatics, and health services methods to urologic conditions.


Joseph Liao, MD

Associate Professor of Urology
Director of Research
Chief of Urology (VAPAHCS)

The overarching theme of our research is translating molecular diagnostics for urological diseases from bench to bedside.  Interfacing biology, engineering, medicine, and surgery, we aim to translate molecular biosensing and imaging technologies to the clinics with the goal of transforming the diagnosis and treatment of urological infections and cancers that are among the most common and expensive human diseases.  We are particularly interested in harnessing the diagnostic potentials of urine using ultrasensitive molecular biosensors and incorporating optical and molecular imaging to improve the outcome of cancer surgery (i.e. image-guided surgery). Current projects include development of an integrated biochip for point-of-care diagnosis of urinary tract infections, in vivo microscopy of the urinary tract, and molecular contrast agents for optical imaging of bladder cancer. 


Geoffrey Sonn, MD

Assistant Professor of Urology

My primary interest is in improving prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment through MRI and image-targeted prostate biopsy. In collaboration with radiologists at Stanford, we are working to define the optimal role of MRI in prostate cancer. We hope to improve cancer imaging to the point that some men with elevated PSA may safely avoid prostate biopsy. For those who need biopsy, we are evaluating novel MRI-US fusion targeted biopsy, a technique that greatly improves upon the conventional biopsy method. More accurate prostate biopsy enables better decision making about treatment options such as deciding between active surveillance and surgery.

Moving beyond biopsy, I am interested in the use of imaging to select patients who are candidates for prostate cancer focal therapy. Focal therapy involves ablation of prostate cancers under image guidance without destruction or removal of the normal areas of the prostate and with less damage to important surrounding structures that are important for erectile function and urinary continence.

I am also interested in developing novel molecular imaging techniques such as near infrared fluorescence imaging to improve surgery for prostate and kidney cancer.

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