Zhang Lab

Research Focus

Investigating the pathogenesis of islet autoimmunity and antigen-specific immune interventions for treating type 1 diabetes.

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.

Staff Snapshot

Li Zhang, PhD

Li Zhang, MD, PhD

Assistant Investigator

  • Assistant Professor (Diabetes and Endocrinology), Baylor College of Medicine, 2015 to 2020
  • Instructor, Barbara Davis Center of Type 1 Diabetes, University of Colorado, 2011 to 2015
  • Postdoctoral Fellow (Type 1 Diabetes), Barbara Davis Center, University of Colorado, 2006 to 2011
  • Research Scholar, Diabetes Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, 2005


Scientists interested in collaborating with the Zhang Lab or on research should contact Li Zhang.

  • Baylor College of Medicine Logo Baylor College of Medicine
  • University of Colorado logo University of Colorado
  • University of Texas Health Science Center logo University of Texas Health Science Center

Lab Positions

Please reach out to Li Zhang to learn about potential opportunities.