Dr. Zhang’s research focuses on investigating the immunomodulatory/anti-inflammatory functions and regenerative potentials of gingiva-derived mesenchymal stem cells (GMSCs) both in vitro and in vivo preclinical rodent models of human inflammatory diseases, including colitis, skin and oral wound healing, allergic contact dermatitis, etc. Most recently, Dr. Zhang and his colleagues have induced ex vivo expanded GMSCs into neural crest-stem-like cells (NCSC) via nongenetic approaches and have shown that local transplantation of these induced NCSC-like cells or progenitor like cells (NPCs) exhibit enhanced therapeutic effects on regeneration of both crush-injured sciatic nerves and transected facial nerves in rats. Meanwhile, they have successfully 3D bio-printed scaffold-free nerve grafts using spheroid GMSCs enriched with NCSC properties as the only cellular “bio-ink”, and implantation of these 3D bio-printed nerve grafts into the defect of rat facial nerves could facilitate facial nerve regeneration. Further studies on these stem cells, Dr. Zhang and his colleagues proposed that the extracellular vesicles (EVs) including exosomes released by GMSCs may contribute an important role to modify the microenvironment of the damaged tissues by modulating the functions of host cells, thus facilitating tissue regeneration. Research by Dr. Zhang and collaborators have shown that GMSC-derived exosomes could promote myomucosal and taste bud regeneration in the defected areas of tongue in rats. These studies in regenerative medicine lead to another area of investigation for Dr. Zhang and his colleagues—the study on the potential role of mesenchymal stromal cells within the tumor microenvironment in the pathogenesis of odontogenic benign tumors, e.g. ameloblastoma, and malignant head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC).
Honors / Credentials
- Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Oral Biology and Medicine, School of Dentistry, University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), 2001-2002.
- Research Associate, Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science, Los Angeles, 2002-2004.
- Research Associate & lab manager, Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology, University of Southern California School of Dentistry, 2004-2011.
- Senior Investigator & lab manager, Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery & Pharmacology, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, 2012-2017.
- Visiting/Adjunct Professor, Guangdong Medical University, Zhanjiang/Dongguan, China, 2008-2016.
- Honored Adjunct Professor, Guangdong Medical University, Zhanjiang/Dongguan, China, 2012-2015.
- Research Assistant Professor, Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery & Pharmacology, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, 2018.
- Reviewers for Journals: J Invest Dermatol, In Vitro Cellular Developmental Biology – Animal, Int J Cancer, Int J Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, Exp Dermatol, Int J Exp Pathol, Curr Proteomics, J Cell Biochem, Cancer Sci, J Transl Med, Carcinogenesis, Stem Cell & Dev, Tissue Engineering: Part A, J Cancer Res & Ther, Cell Transplantation, Cancer Biomarkers, Plos One, J Dental Res, J Exp Clin Cancer, Int J Mol Sci, Clin Dev Immunol, World J Stem Cell, J Immunol Res, Mol Cancer, Eur J Oral Science, Oral Oncol, Mol Med Rep, Oncol Rep, Oncotarget, Oncol Lett, Life Sci.
- Research Support Grant (RSG) awarded by Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017.
- Pilot Research Grant awarded by the University of Pennsylvania Diabetes Research Center (DRC).
- Peter Geistlich Research Award, OsteoScience Foundation, 2016.