What we do
Dr. Zhang is motivated to find a cure for type 1 diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disease. Over the last decade, Dr. Zhang and her collaborators have made milestones in understanding the pathogenesis of T1D and exploring an effective immune intervention to halt or postpone the development of the disease using spontaneous diabetic mouse models.
One of Dr. Zhang's ongoing projects is to generate disease-antigen-specific protective regulatory T cells to suppress the islet immune inflammation. This work is currently funded by the US Department of Defense.
Dr. Zhang and team found the disease-causing insulin autoantigen is different from the hormone insulin. A fragment of insulin becomes autoantigen when it is presented by the MHC class II molecule in a specific position by forming the insulin/MHCII complex. Using mouse models, Dr. Zhang's group has developed different immune approaches to reprogram T1D.
- The insulin/MHC recombinant protein as a vaccine.
- The inhibitory monoclonal antibodies specific for the insulin/MHCII epitopes.
- The insulin/MHCII specific engineered T cells (CAR-T cells).
Dr. Zhang has proved that the above immune approaches were successful in inhibiting the development of T1D in spontaneous T1D mice. The final goal is to translate the proof-of-principles from bench to bedside to treat T1D patients.
Given the difference of the MHC II in humans and mice, Dr. Zhang developed an antibody library and identified multiple antibodies specific for the human insulin/HLA-DQ8 complexes. She continues to actively pursue the regulation of autoimmune responses and application of antibodies in characterizing islet autoimmunity.
In the meantime, more advanced antibody and cell therapies will be explored to benefit more T1D patients and high-risk individuals.