wei zhang small“Every international student comes to the United States with an American Dream.” So says Wei Zhang, a candidate for the Ph.D. in Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Born and raised in Changsha, China, Zhang dreams of becoming an expert who will improve the management and treatment of patients suffering from obesity and diabetes.

Zhang earned his M.D. from Wuhan University in Wuhan City, China in 2009. “I decided to apply to the Ph.D. program at UAB’s School of Health Professions in order to get more research training and learn how to generate better treatment for diseases,” Zhang explains. “The Ph.D. in Nutrition Sciences is a plus to my medical training, enabling me to better understand the processes of disease from the viewpoint of nutrition and lifestyle.”

The UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences is home to two internationally recognized NIH-funded research centers: the Nutrition Obesity Research Center and the Diabetes Research and Training Center. These resources drew Zhang to UAB’s nationally ranked Ph.D. in Nutrition Sciences program.

“The incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer has been dramatically increasing over the past decade in spite of better medical technology available,” Zhang says. “Better control and management of these chronic diseases has to be achieved by improving dietary and life style interventions among the population.”

Since entering the School of Health Professions, Zhang has focused his research on the identification and verification of key regulators of insulin sensitivity under the mentorship of W. Timothy Garvey, M.D., and Yuchang Fu, Ph.D. He is particularly interested in the genes NR4A3 and TRIB3 and their roles in regulating energy metabolism and the development of insulin resistance.

Zhang has presented his research in multiple national and international settings, including the Scientific Sessions meeting of the American Diabetes Association (ADA). His research has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, Journal of Molecular and Genetic Medicine, and Biochemical & Biophysical Research Communications.

After Zhang graduates this summer, he plans to continue his research on the mechanisms of insulin resistance and diabetes. He also plans to learn more about nutritional education. “The education I obtained from UAB enables me to share and communicate knowledge with people around me,” he says. “I want to help people to better understand the management of obesity and diabetes and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

As he concludes his time at UAB, Zhang advises incoming students to engage with a variety of student organizations and research projects. Doing this, he says, will enable them to learn valuable research methods that can be applied to any number of disciplines.

“From my point of view, training on how to conduct research and learning how to creatively solve problems are the key components for study. No matter what problems you will encounter or how bad the situation could be, always work and live with passion and patience. Always think that there is a problem, there has to be a solution. “