Zhao Zhang, Ph.D.

Title
Assistant Professor
Department
Pharmacology and Cancer Biology
Institution
Duke University
Address
308 Research Drive
Room C-325
City, State, ZIP
Durham, NC 27710
Phone
919-660-0747
Email
[email protected]
Website
https://thezzlab.com
Research field
Genetics
Award year
2021

Research

The Zhang lab will investigate how the virus-like genetic elements hidden in our genome could help prime the immune system to battle future infections. The genomes of animals, including ourselves, are riddled with the remnants of viruses that infected our ancestors millions of years ago. Some of these DNA segments—termed as retrotransposons—periodically break free, make copies of themselves, and reintegrate at other chromosomal locations. In my laboratory, we discovered that these mobile genetic elements could be activated during development—and that their activation stimulates a systemic immune response to prime the hosts’ immune system for combating subsequent exposure to viruses. Now, using state-of-the-art methods in cell and molecular genetics, biochemistry, and genomics, my lab will determine how these self-replicating elements trigger immune responses and why these responses are long-lasting. Given that the expression of these mobile elements that occurs commonly in cancer cells can also potentially activate a similar immune response, this work could lead to novel therapies for combating infections and for harnessing the immune system to battle cancers.

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