Duke Master’s Student, Yuhao Zhou, wins Dean’s Research Award

Congratulations Yuhao Zhou

By Lila Taylor

Yuhao Zhou is a second-year master’s student at Duke University working in Musah Lab, led by Samira Musah, PhD, assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering, medicine and cell biology, and an investigator for Duke MEDx.

Recently, Zhou became a recipient of the Duke Graduate School’s Dean’s Research Award for his research investigating a novel repair mechanism following a simulated injury of glomerular epithelial cells (podocytes) and endothelial cells which are derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs. He has previously been awarded Master’s Student Research Fellowship from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University.

Zhou graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 2020 with a bachelor in science in biomedical engineering. He is currently pursuing his master's in science in biomedical engineering at Duke.

“I think my time as an undergraduate had a very important influence on me, my research direction, and my research interests. My undergraduate PI, [Dr. XIaojun Lance Lian], has a really nice personality and gave me a lot of hands-on practice opportunities as an undergraduate,” Zhou said.

After joining Dr. Lian’s lab at Pennsylvania State University, Zhou realized his interest in directed differentiation and cell reprogramming, CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing, and regenerative medicine. He took interest in the way in which differentiated cells transplanted into the patient’s own body and prevented an immune response.  

Zhou was able to apply that interest in Musah’s lab at Duke University. His initial efforts included working with PhD students, Yasmin Roye and Rohan Bhattacharya, to differentiate human iPSCs into vascular and epithelial cells and reconstituting these cells in microfluidic devices to model patient-specific kidney function and disease phenotypes. He hopes to extend the knowledge and skills obtained to uncover mechanisms of chronic kidney diseases and identity novel therapeutic targets.

“Right now, we already have the stem cells to be differentiated into an endothelial cells and podocytes," said Zhou. "Last semester, we finished using those cells to generate disease models, and currently, we are testing different genes to see if they have potential to reverse the damaged phenotype."

Zhou is especially thankful for current member of Musah’s team including Sloan Scholar and PhD student, Yasmin Roy, who helped him learn the stem cell differentiation process and associated steps. Research scientist, Nalini Mehta, PhD, and CBTE Pre-doctoral fellow, Rohan Bhattacharya, BS, MS, are helping Zhou learn how to design research projects and improve his scientific writing skills. And Zhou is very grateful to Dr. Musah, who gave him many opportunities in her lab.

“Since joining my lab at Duke, Yuhao has contributed to a research project focused on developing a vascularized organ-on-a-chip microfluidic device reconstituted from patient-specific stem cells," said Musah. "His initial efforts earned him co-authorship on our recently published paper on the same topic. The skills and experiences Yuhao has gained during his Master’s research studies prepare him well for PhD programs in the future."

Zhou will continue his research on stem cell engineering and discovery of therapeutic targets and plans to apply to a PhD program to further his research interests and education after graduating this semester.