2010 Outstanding New Investigator: Qiang Zhang

Despite his extensive biomedical training, Dr. Qiang Zhang has always thought of himself as a physicist or engineer. He started his career by studying for an M.D. degree in Harbin Medical University, China from 1988 to 1995. He then came to the United States to pursue his Ph.D. degree in Physiology at the University of Connecticut in 1997. By the time he was about to graduate, he decided to obtain training in computational systems biology realizing that quantitative skills are essential in future biological research, as they have been in physics and engineering. He went on to receive his computational biology training as a postdoctoral fellow at The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences in North Carolina in 2003. Under supervisions by Drs. Rory Conolly and Melvin Andersen, he focused on understanding the shape of dose response curves for chemical toxicity using computer simulations of biological systems.

Dr. Zhang believes that dose response curves can be better understood and predicted by improving knowledge of how biological networks/circuits in the cell behave in the face of external perturbations. Through his research, it has become clear that with robust homeostatic mechanisms operating in biological organisms, including feedforward and feedback controls, dose response relationships for exogenous stressors are intrinsically nonlinear, especially in the low-dose region. His research also predicts that for steroid mimics, a U-shaped response in the low-dose region can appear as a result of steroid receptor homodimerization. His research contributes to the appreciation that cell-cell variability associated with stochastic gene expression plays a crucial role in shaping dose response curves.

Dr. Zhang has also contributed considerably to educating biologists and toxicologists on the emerging computational tools for dose response modeling. He has organized workshops/short courses which focus on how nonlinear responses to external perturbations arise through molecular circuits composed of a variety of signaling motifs.

Currently as the Director of the Center for Dose Response Modeling at the Hamner Institutes, Dr. Zhang collaborates closely with experimental toxicologists to understand the health consequences of perturbation induced by low-dose oxidative stressors to molecular circuits and toxicity pathways.