Dr. Genhua Zheng was born on April 21, 1978, in Nantong, China, a mid-size city on the northern banks of the Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province. Dr. Zheng’s family was very poor as were most of the people in China during those years, and his mother had never learned to read. As a result, Dr. Zheng’s parents encouraged their son to excel in his education in the hope that he would be able to overcome the poverty and illiteracy that surrounded them.
Dr. Zheng was a very curious child, but had little outlet for his curiosity. His parents would often find him disassembling and then reassembling the only clock in the house. Fortunately, the young Dr. Zheng had an excellent memory and unusual mechanical ability, and the clock always ran well and on time. This fascination with understanding “how things work” has never left Dr. Zheng and continues to guide and inspire him in his scientific and medical research.
With his parents’ encouragement, Dr. Zheng excelled in school, ranking at the top of his class each year. His love of reading was well known and led to a teacher presenting him with a science book as a reward for his high grades on his final examinations. The author of the book encouraged his readers to “observe, think, and discover” and Dr. Zheng would apply these principles throughout his scientific career to achieve results well beyond other scientists and researchers.
In 1996, Dr. Zheng was accepted into the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), one of China’s top rated universities. Here, he would establish an outstanding research record while earning two bachelor degrees – one in chemistry and one in computer science – as well as a Ph.D. in chemistry. This multi-disciplinary academic pursuit further prepared Dr. Zheng to achieve beyond his peers as one of the few researchers to have advanced expertise in both computer science and chemistry.
During his time at USTC, Dr. Zheng was invited to join the laboratory of Professor Cai-yuan Pan, an internationally regarded Polymer Chemist. Within a very short time, Professor Pan recognized Dr. Zheng’s unique research skills and assigned him to a cutting-edge project focused upon the development of a novel material that combined polymers and carbon. The experimental goal was to develop a material with the excellent electrical conductivity of carbon and the stable mechanical properties of a polymer. Following more than a year of intense research, perseverance, and ingenuity, Dr. Zheng announced the successful synthesis of this new material. As word spread about this discovery, Dr. Zheng was invited to continue this research in Hong Kong where he would have access to more advanced laboratory equipment. Here, Dr. Zheng carefully studied the structure of his novel material, carefully noting its properties and molecular structure. Remarkably, this discovery, representing Dr. Zheng’s first scientific research study, was published in one of the world’s top scientific journals, Carbon, where it has continued to receive numerous citations and sustained interest and acclaim by other material scientists even today.
Although Dr. Zheng was now becoming a well-known researcher in his own right, he decided to return to his studies to acquire the cutting edge knowledge and research skills that would ensure his goal of becoming one of the top researchers in his field. With Professor Pan as his mentor, Dr. Zheng focused his research upon the development of new methods to synthesize core-shell polymer spheres which could serve as a potential medicine delivery carrier. However, other researchers before him had tried but had not been able to overcome the multiple steps and “scaling up” that was required to produce core-shell polymer spheres. In a brilliant moment of research insight, Dr. Zheng selected a new solvent in which monomers will dissolve while the corresponding polymers will precipitate out. Using this method, Dr. Zheng was able, for the first time, to synthesize core-shell polymer spheres in one single step. This discovery was reported in a series of papers in prestigious journals where it has continued to guide other scientists in new materials research and discoveries.
In 2005, Dr. Zheng received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering at USTC – a remarkable achievement in and of itself in view of his childhood surrounded by poverty and illiteracy. It was at this time that Dr. Zheng made a decision that would forever change the course of his research career. Rather than continuing his work in the field of chemistry, Dr. Zheng made the commitment to change his career path to the field of Biology and to use his unique background in chemistry to further biological and medical research.
In 2006, with this new-found purpose and commitment, Dr. Zheng joined Dr. Wen-hong Li’s laboratory at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas (UTSWMC), an internationally renowned medical research center with four Nobel Laureates, three of whom are active faculty members, 18 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and 14 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Upon arrival at UTSWMC, Dr. Zheng joined an ongoing project that was investigating the biology of cell gap junctions. With Dr. Zheng’s expertise in the field of chemistry, a new dye technique for cell imaging was soon successfully synthesized. This dye (fluorophore) combined both the cage and FRET techniques for cell imaging and provided researchers with a new and more effective technique to study cell gap junction dynamics using a fluorescent microscope. This work was met with great interest in the medical research community and was published in the leading chemistry journal - the Journal of the American Chemistry Society - where it continues to influence new developments and techniques in cell imaging research.
After the conclusion of this project, Dr. Zheng’s research focus moved into an entirely different and even more important direction – the role of microRNA in the biological processes and in the mechanisms of disease. MicroRNAs are single strand RNA molecules that play an important role in many biological processes through the regulation of gene expression. Dr. Zheng began a new project to develop inhibitors for microRNAs by combining several complex techniques, including nucleic acid chemistry, bioconjugation, cell imaging, and microinjection. By applying his unique background in chemistry and his expertise in organic synthesis and bioconjugation, Dr. Zheng was able to develop a new class of “antisense regents” that potentially and selectively inhibit microRNA under laboratory conditions. This work demonstrated that these new antisense regents, in combination, could inhibit multiple microRNAs at one time – a discovery that now allows researchers to examine microRNA interactions and the effect of multiple microRNAs on gene expression. This discovery, in turn, can now be implemented into new research to further the search for prevention and cures for many diseases, including cancer and heart disease. This research has also been published in Silence, a leading journal in the medical research field where it has received extensive citation by other scientists and researchers. In addition, other noted researchers have published articles reviewing Dr. Zheng’s research work, including an article in the prestigious Journal of Biology in which Dr. Zheng’s research accomplishments have received the highest accolades from its authors.