Zheng Zhou earned her B.S. from Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and her Ph.D. from Baylor College of Medicine. She completed postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then returned to Baylor as a faculty member. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Rice University. She received postdoctoral fellowships from the Cancer Research Fund of the Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Foundation and the Merck/MIT Collaboration Program. She has also been honored with an Investigator Award of the Cancer Research Institute and a Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award of the March of Dimes Birth Defect Foundation.
Zhou’s laboratory studies the mechanisms of dying cell clearance. During animal development and in adulthood, cells undergoing apoptosis are rapidly internalized by other cells via phagocytosis (engulfment) and degraded inside phagocytes. The phagocytic removal of dying cells is an evolutionarily conserved process that has important physiological impacts. The removal of apoptotic cells provides a safe means for eliminating unwanted and dangerous cells from the body. It prevents tissue injury, inflammatory responses and autoimmune responses that could be induced by the content of dead cells. In addition to apoptotic cells, cells that die through necrosis, another type of cell death frequently caused by acute injury and morphologically distinct from apoptosis, are also removed via phagocytosis. The removal of necrotic cells, which are associated with neurodegenerative disorders and stress responses, is considered critical for tissue regeneration. The study of the dying cell removal process is also closely related to cancer research and treatment. Zhou’s laboratory investigates the conserved molecular mechanism that controls the recognition, engulfment and degradation of dying cells, using the nematode C. elegans as a model organism.