Xu Zhou, PhD '18

An 'underappreciated gene' leads to a ground-breaking discovery by PhD student in the College of Pharmacy. 
"Xu has demonstrated exemplary characteristics of many accomplished scientists including curiosity, logic, creativity and most importantly, persistence."

An 'underappreciated gene' leads to a ground-breaking discovery by PhD student in the College of Pharmacy. 

It would have been easier for doctor of philosophy student Xu Zhou to quit her research in understanding the development of rhinovirus, or the common cold, after several failures during her scientific quest. But she had already come so far - literally and figuratively. 

In 2014, Zhou came to the College of Pharmacy from China as the only international student in the Pharmacology and Toxicology program. Even with the challenging cultural and language barriers, she successfully manages to navigate the program with an exceptional grade-point average, authoring/co-authoring five articles and presenting five research posters at prestigious national scientific conferences. 

These achievements underscored her full potential as a rising star in the field of pulmonary research. During her time at the college, Zhou made a ground-breaking discovery that may potentially change the standard of care for rhinoviruses in the near future. 

In her search for understanding how rhinoviruses propagate, Zhou discovered the underappreciated role of macrophages, a type of white blood cell in the immune system, which, once activated by an epithelial protein, can harbor deadly viruses and carry them from the nose to the low respiratory tract. This occurrence can lead to severe diseases, particularly for individuals with asthma. 

Her discovery was published in American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology, an official journal of American Thoracic Society, and has been widely praised in the pulmonary field for providing novel insights into rhinovirus-induced asthma exacerbations. 

Zhou and her faculty mentors are now seeking a patent protection for her finding. Further intrigued by its medical potential, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease recently gave a top rating to a recently submitted proposal that is primarily based on the Xu's study. 

"Xu has demonstrated exemplary characteristics of many accomplished scientists including curiosity, logic, creativity and most importantly, persistence," Yin Chen, Ph.D., associate professor and Zhou's adviser, said. "She represents her class - a talented and tenacious group of young scientists - who are prepared to surpass their mentors and contribute to the greater good of this society."