rui zhaoAssociate Professor

Research Areas
Pluripotent stem cells

Research Interests

The overall goal of the Zhao laboratory is to utilize stem cells to model and treat human genetic diseases. Stem cells possess the remarkable ability to generate identical daughter stem cells through self-renewal and differentiate into various specialized cell types, making them a valuable tool for studying normal and diseased human development in vitro. Furthermore, they hold promise as a potential source of donor tissue for cell therapy. At the Zhao Laboratory, our current research is primarily focused on the following areas:

1. Investigating the fundamental biology of pluripotent stem cells (PSCs)
We are interested in unraveling the underlying mechanisms that govern the self-renewal and differentiation of human PSCs. Understanding these processes is crucial for developing innovative approaches to generate disease-relevant cell types for disease modeling and stem cell-based therapies. Our specific interests lie in exploring the roles of microRNAs and long noncoding RNAs in regulating self-renewal, lineage differentiation, and the reprogramming of human PSCs.

2. Modeling genetic diseases using PSCs
Accessing diseased human tissues for experimentation is often challenging. While animal models have provided valuable insights into human diseases, they may not fully replicate unique human characteristics. To overcome these limitations, we employ patient cell-derived human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) that carry the genetic abnormalities responsible for the disease. These patient-derived hiPSCs serve as a novel research model, allowing us to recreate diseases in a laboratory setting. Currently, we are focused on modeling monogenic diseases like Cystic Fibrosis (CF) as well as complex diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, we employ hiPSC-based disease models to assess the effectiveness of potential gene therapy approaches.

3. Modeling human cancer using pluripotent stem cells
Low-grade gliomas (LGGs) are incurable and are among the most fatal tumors in adults. We have developed a novel hiPSC-based LGG model. We expect that this model will enable us to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying low-grade gliomagenesis, which will facilitate the identification of novel drug targets and the development of new therapies.

In summary, our laboratory aims to leverage the unique properties of stem cells to advance our understanding of human genetic diseases, develop disease models, and explore potential therapeutic strategies.


Graduate School
Ph.D., The University of Iowa, Iowa City

Postdoctoral Fellowship
Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Stem Cell Institute


Shelby Biomedical Research Building
Room 714
1825 University Blvd.
Birmingham, AL 35294-2182

(205) 975-3414