Remembering Dongxian Zhang

| Written by Kristen Cusato
Dongxian Zhang

Dongxian Zhang, Ph.D., our valued colleague, collaborator, mentor and friend, recently passed away after a long illness.

Dongxian had been with SBP since the fall of 1999. He came to us from Harvard Medical School. “He was a valued associate professor in our Degenerative Diseases Program and served as an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Pathology at UC San Diego since 2004,” says Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., president of SBP. “His positive and helpful personality will be missed and always remembered.”

“He told me he was surprised that he had been accepted to college, but that acceptance motivated him to go on to make major contributions to his chosen field of study,” says Randal Kaufman Ph.D., director of the Degenerative Diseases Program.

“When Dongxian shared the news about his diagnosis, he was incredibly brave and at peace with his life,” says Kaufman. “I will truly miss my friend. I will also miss the times we played golf. We enjoyed the camaraderie, which I will never forget.”

Dongxian made key advances in the study of motor neuron degeneration, including the discovery of novel neuroprotective factors and biomarkers of early events in disease pathology. Recent findings in collaboration with Huaxi Xu, Ph.D., professor at SBP, should be published soon and may lead to new diagnoses and treatments for motor neuron diseases.

Xu says he will remember his friend for his gentle demeanor and extreme dedication to his trainees. “Dongxian would never hesitate to jump into the lab to finish an experiment, calibrate instruments or perform molecular biology to help out members of his lab, as well as our lab,” Xu says. “His illness came as a surprise to everyone. He faced his sickness with great integrity and humor.”

“To me, he was more than a mentor for my work but also to my life,” says Lu-Lin Jiang, Ph.D., who worked in Dongxian’s lab. “He gave us much freedom to explore the beauty of the science. He took care of us like he took care of his own kids. When he was recovering from his first brain surgery, he told us he was not afraid of death, but he was worried about us. Later, he tried to help us to find new positions. Dongxian was the most positive person I have ever met.”

Dongxian leaves behind his wife Dong-Er Zhang and two sons, David and Phillip. We offer our sincere condolences to his family.


More about Dongxian Zhang

In 1969, during the Culture Revolution in China, Dongxian, like many students in big cities, was sent from Shanghai to a rural village to be “re-educated” by farmers. He was only 16 years old and had completed less than one year of middle school. When the Revolution ended in 1977, the Chinese government reopened enrollment for college entrance and Dongxian took the national college entrance exam. Using textbooks he borrowed from the headquarters of a local railroad, he taught himself enough middle and high school subjects to receive one of the top 10 exam scores in Yunnan province in 1978. He went on to study at Peking University, one of the most prestigious in China.

Dongxian was hoping to write a novel based on his life experience, but sadly this never happened.

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