HuaZhuHua Zhu, PhD, professor of Surgery in the College of Medicine and research leader in the Division of Cardiac Surgery, has three active grants in place supporting research intended to improve patient recovery and outcomes.

Inhibiting neovascularization for corneal wound healing

Zhu’s most recent R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health supports his work titled “Inhibiting Neovascularization for Corneal Wound Healing.” The total annual amount awarded for this recently activated project, which runs through November 2024, is $410,000.

This latest study explores the cell death pathway following cornea injury. The cornea is a unique avascular tissue in the human body but vasculature that compromises vision can develop in the cornea following surgeries or chemical or mechanical injuries. Zhu’s team is studying a type of cell death pathway called pyroptosis and its critical role in regulating growth of corneal vascularization following chemical injury. The team has found that infiltrating neutrophils following corneal injury with pyroptosis suppresses re-epithelialization and hinders healing. With more to be known about epithelium regeneration and factors that control corneal neovascularization, their research will focus on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of pyroptosis-mediated blood vessel regulation in the cornea. Their goal is to identify potentially effective treatments that inhibit corneal neovascularization by targeting pyroptosis.

Inhibiting cell death for protecting cardiac injury

Zhu’s second active R01 grant, “Inhibiting Cell Death for Protecting Cardiac Injury,” is designed to study the novel role of necroptosis, a type of programmed cell death, following myocardial infarction (MI). The research team has discovered that activation of necroptosis can lead to cardiac cell death and compromised cardiac function. Their study, which began in July 2020 and runs through June 2024 with $390,000 in annual funding, is investigating potential ways to inhibit the necroptotic pathway to protect post-MI cardiac injury.

Preservation of limbal stem cell function in corneal injury

Rounding out the trifecta of Zhu’s grants is a study that began in September 2019 and runs through July 2023 with total annual funds of $410,000.

This research, titled “Preservation of Limbal Stem Cell Function in Corneal Injury,” builds on current understanding of the critical role that limbal stem cells (LSCs) play in corneal physiology, injury and regeneration. Zhu’s research team is focusing on the molecular mechanisms underlying post-injury activation of LSCs. Using a unique lineage-tracing animal model, they’ve already discovered that MG53, a key protein that directs cell membrane repair, can promote LSC activation. Their goal is to determine the specific molecular mechanisms underlying MG53-mediated LSC activation during corneal regeneration.