Jianzhong Chen headshot.

Assistant Professor

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(205) 934-8230
Office location: VH 390E

Teaching/research interests: Ocular Surface

Office hours: By appointment


  • BS, University of Science and Technology of China
  • PhD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Analytical Chemistry

Dr. Chen is an Assistant Professor at UAB School of Optometry since August 2014. He obtained his Ph.D. degree from Department of Chemistry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) under the direction of Professor David Hage, Ph.D., the Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Chromatography B. After his Ph.D. studies on drug-protein interactions, he continued to have two postdoctoral trainings but switched his research area to proteomics. His first postdoctoral training was at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor for two years exploring serum protein biomarkers of pancreatic cancer with Professor David Lubman, Ph.D., at Department of Chemistry, and Professor Diane Simeone, M.D., a member of the National Academy of Medicine, at Department of Surgery. Dr. Chen’s second postdoctoral training was at Washington State University with Professor James Bruce, Ph.D. (currently a Professor at University of Washington), where he focused on studying the modifications on one protein in serum samples from ischemia patients.

From 2007 to 2014, Dr. Chen worked as a Scientist at Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL, contracted through Henry Jackson Foundation) and in the meantime, as a Visiting Scientist at The Ohio State University (OSU) Mass Spectrometry & Proteomics Facility (MSP). At OSU, most of the time, he worked in the area of proteomics for AFRL, exploring urine and cornea protein biomarkers of soldier fatigue as well as developing a novel method called top-down proteomics to characterize post-translationally modified proteins. In the meantime, he started to work in the exciting area of lipidomics on identifying and quantifying lipids in human meibomian gland secretions (meibum), the predominant source of lipids in tears. A change of these lipids, either qualitatively or quantitatively, is believed to be the major cause of dry eye disease.

Chen group's present research interests involve developing new lipidomic and proteomic methods to better understand the role of tear lipids and proteins in maintaining the normal function of the eye. More information is available on Dr. Chen's GoogleScholar Citation and NCBI Bibliography.

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Research interests:

Chen’s group is interested in utilizing analytical instrument, mainly mass spectrometers, to develop a sensitive approach for identifying and quantifying components in tears and meibomian gland secretions (meibum, the predominant source of lipids in tears) collected in microcapillary tubes, a collection method with negligible contamination from other sources. Each of these components, including lipids, proteins, and metabolites, has a normal range of concentrations. A change of these components from the normal range is believed to result in or result from various eye diseases including dry eye. However, these components and their corresponding quantities in tears/meibum are not clearly understood. For instance, many groups have difficulty in detecting, not to say quantifying, wax diesters, one of the major lipid components in tears/meibum reported in the literature. On the other hand, in the literature people rarely report post-translational modifications of tear proteins, which are essential for their functions. There are several major challenges for analyzing these tear/meibum samples. First, the total amount of samples available is minuscule (< 15 micrograms or < 20 nanoliters for meibum, < 10 microliters for tears). Second, the nonpolar property of the lipids makes it much more difficult to ionize and detect these lipids by mass spectrometry than other polar compounds such as peptides and phospholipids. Third, the conventional bottom-up approach for protein analysis, which involves enzymatic digestion, reduction of the disulfide bonds, and alkylation of the reduced thiol groups to prevent reformation of the disulfide bonds, and analysis of the resulted peptides, often leads to loss of the post-translational modification information in the identified proteins. Chen group's present research interests involve developing new lipidomic and proteomic methods for identifying and quantifying these components in meibum/tears. It will help to better understand the roles of these tear/meibum components in maintaining the proper function of the eye or as the biomarker of certain eye diseases.

Recent courses taught:

Ocular Surface Journal Club

Select publications:

*Corresponding author

Academic distinctions and professional societies:  

  • American Society for Mass Spectrometry
  • American Chemical Society
  • The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology

UAB/Area student groups you participate in:

  • Vision Science Research Center