Associate Professor

Areas of Interest
adaptive optics high-resolution retinal imaging; age-related macular degeneration; retinal hemodynamics

The eye is a unique place in which direct histologic-level observations can be made on the neural, glial, and vascular tissue in a living human subject with optical imaging, thus retinal imaging can play a critical role for diagnosing retinal and systemic diseases. Dr. Zhang's research interests are in retinal imaging with an emphasis on adaptive optics (AO) imaging and retina degenerative diseases currently focusing on age-related macular degeneration (AMD). His long-term career goal is to develop technological advancements that improve understanding and treatment of diseases that blind the human eye and affect central nervous system.

Dr. Zhang's original training was in optical engineering focusing on AO, a technique that can mitigate blurs in astronomy imaging caused by time-varying atmospheric turbulence. His study of retinal imaging started in 2003; he was very fortunate to join Dr. Austin Roorda’s lab at the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Roorda is a pioneer in AO retinal imaging. Under his supervision, Dr. Zhang successfully developed a micro-electric-mechanical system (MEMS) based adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope (AOSLO) in 2006, and won the prestigious R&D 100 Awards for this work in 2007.  Mentored by Dr. Roorda as well as Dr. Jacque Duncan at University of California at San Francisco, he studied cone photoreceptor loss using the AOSLO in patients with inherited retinal degenerative diseases including retinitis pigmentosa, cone-rod dystrophy, choroideremia, and NARP syndrome.

In 2008, Dr. Zhang joined UAB Department of Ophthalmologym & Visual Sciences. He has established the “Adaptive Optics Retinal Imaging Lab” and developed a new generation AO imaging system that integrates scanning laser ophthalmoscopy and optical coherence tomography (AO-SLO-OCT). He has also developed AO differential phase contrast ophthalmoscopy (AO-DPC) based upon this imaging station.

Since 2010, Dr. Zhang's clinical research has been focusing on study of AMD through collaboration with Drs. Christine A Curcio, Cynthia Owsley, C. Douglas Witherspoon, and Richard F Spaide, who are renowned scientists and physicians in retina histology, visual impairment, and vitreoretinal diseases. He was awarded NIH grant (R01EY024378) in 2015 to study the microstructure and nature history of subretinal drusenoid deposits (SDD), which are recently recognized extracellular lesions associated with development of AMD. These studies provided him an excellent experience transitioning from an engineer to a scientist studying retinal pathology.

Recently, funded by NIH R21 and SBIR Phase I&II grants, he has developed the next generation AO imaging instrument featuring significantly increased image acquisition speed up to 400 frames/second, which is 10 times faster than current AOSLO. This imaging modality has been demonstrated with the unique ability for investigating fast retinal events such as individual red and white blood cells moving through the retinal vasculature and rapid time-varying retina functional signals.

In addition to funding from the National Eye Institute, his research has been funded by the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama, the International Retinal Research Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Zhang received his Ph.D. in precision instrumentation engineering from Tianjin University, China, and received further training in adaptive optics high-resolution retinal imaging at University of California at Berkeley.

Education & Training

Undergraduate Education
Tianjin University, China

M.S., Optical Engineering
Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics & Physics

Ph.D., Precision Metrology & Instruments Engineering
Tianjin University, China

Post-Doctoral Training
Beijing Institute of Technology; Auckland University, New Zealand

Contact Information

Volker Hall, 390C

Office Phone