OCRF Talk with Lin Zhang, M.D.



Lin Zhang, M.D.
Research Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Lin Zhang is a 2006 and 2009 Liz Tilberis Grant Recipient, and a 2003 Program of Excellence Grant Recipient.

In the fall of 2003, Dr. Lin Zhang was anxious. Having come to the United States for a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania three years earlier, Dr. Zhang now found himself at a pivotal moment in his career. He had made what he calls “one of the most important decisions in my life,” the decision to leave clinical practice and focus on laboratory research, but was unsure how to make the switch and initiate his research career. After reading about Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, he submitted his very first ovarian cancer research grant application in the summer of 2003, for OCRF’s Ann Schreiber Mentored Investigator Award.

“It seems like I had to wait a really long time to hear back about my grant application, he recalls. “When I got the good news, I was thrilled. It was really the first fundamental step toward developing my research career.”
A lot has changed for Dr. Lin over the past ten years. Since his first grant in 2003, he has been awarded two additional OCRF grants (one Liz Tilberis Award in 2006 and another in 2009) to support his research. He has transitioned from a trainee to a successful, independent investigator, directing a laboratory of his own that focuses on the function of microRNAs in ovarian cancer.

“microRNAs are a type of gene which has been shown to control certain behaviors in cells, including cell growth and death,” explains Dr. Zhang. “My grants from OCRF have enabled us to be the first to show how microRNAs might be involved in ovarian cancer, and to demonstrate how targeting them might lead to an effective treatment.” Specifically, Dr. Zhang is focusing on a microRNA named let-7, which he has shown is a promising therapeutic target. He believes that if he is able to restore the expression of let-7 in ovarian tumor cells, this may prevent the cancer from from growing.

Dr. Zhang hopes to be able to translate his findings from the lab to the clinic. “Ultimately, our goal is to identify which patients might respond to this type of therapy,” he says. “Based on these discoveries, translational researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are starting a pre-clinical trial in ovarian cancer, as well as a phase 0/I clinical trial in ovarian cancer patients. It’s very exciting. I may spend my days in the laboratory, but I’m always thinking about helping patients.”
He believes patients have a lot to be optimistic about. “We know much more about ovarian cancer now than we did ten years ago when I was starting,” Dr. Zhang commented. The Cancer Genome Atlas project alone has yielded 68 genes that could be targeted for treatment. “We are learning more all the time. Ovarian cancer will be a much more treatable disease in the future.”

Over the years, Dr. Zhang has remained grateful to OCRF for kick-starting, and sustaining, his research career. “OCRF’s support helped me build my research program, and resulted in seventeen published research articles, six invited review articles and three book sections,” he says. In addition, OCRF grants have helped him train new researchers: two postdoctoral fellows, three graduate students, and one visiting scholar have been trained under his supervision. Working with these young researchers reminds him of how far he has come. “I know how critical these first grants are for young researchers. I’m grateful OCRF invested in me.”

Dr. Zhang’s grant was made possible in part by a generous donation from the Tell Every Amazing Lady About Ovarian Cancer, Louisa M. McGregor Foundation.