Kang Zhang’s research inspires alumni gift to establish fund for stem cell research

​The Optic Nerve Regeneration Fund was established in November 2011 to support the Zhang lab’s research on potential stem cell therapies to restore vision in patients with underdeveloped, degenerated, or damaged optic nerves, such as those with optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH). The fund was established by Kevin Churchill, a UCSD graduate whose three-year-old son has ONH, with donations from his friends and family. He was inspired by his visit to the Zhang lab, arranged by his son’s ophthalmologist at the UCSD Shiley Eye Center, Dr. David Granet.

Prof. Zhang is optimistic about the chances for breakthroughs enabled by this funding, as the work involves his specialty, medical genetics, and builds on his experience with stem cell technology. In the first phase, his team will identify genetic variants associated with ONH; in the second, that information will guide the development of novel methods to induce stem cells to form functional optic nerve.