Zixuan Zhang

Zixuan Zhang


I am a 4th year PhD student currently researching the role of vitamin D in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Specifically, my research focuses on microRNA (miRNA) mediated interactions during lipid loading in immortalised hepatocytes and hepatic stellate cells. Although my BSc was in Food Science and Engineering (Qilu University of Technology, Jinan, China), and my MSc was also in Food Science (University of Leeds, Leeds, UK), I chose for my PhD to study nutrition and health. This PhD has allowed me to learn more about Nutritional Sciences and Epidemiology and master many biomolecular and cell biology techniques, which I had never done before. This has included learning mammalian cell culture, multiple molecular biology techniques and using computational approaches such as Mendelian randomisation. I have been motivated by meeting challenges and overcoming difficulties in my project. After 3 years of study, I feel much more confident in my research area and have set up networks with other academic researchers. I am optimistic and easy to get along with. I love cooking, exercising, singing, dancing, and listening to music, especially KPOP.

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Research interests

My PhD project mainly focuses on examining mechanisms that may underpin the role of vitamin D in NAFLD pathogenesis. The overall aim is to test the hypotheses that vitamin D and its regulated microRNAs contribute to NAFLD disease progression. In my experimental work, I am culturing immortalised hepatocytes (HepG2) and hepatic stellate cells (LX-2) with vitamin D and/or fatty acids, separately and together. I am using miRNA arrays to identify novel vitamin D and/or lipid loading regulated miRNAs and bioinformatics to characterise target genes in specific pathways. Alongside my experimental work, in collaboration  with Dr Sarah Lewis (University of Bristol) I am applying two-sample Mendelian randomisation analysis to explore the causal relationship between vitamin D and NAFLD using genome wide association data from the UK Biobank. The results of this project will yield significant understanding of the molecular and regulatory mechanisms of miRNAs regulated/ regulated by vitamin D in NAFLD progression in both healthy and fatty livers.


As this is my final year of my PhD project, I am seeking a postdoc position and have strong research interests in:

  • The role of miRNAs in cancer, either as mediators or biomarkers of disease 
  • The role of micronutrients (like vitamin D, iron, zinc, and selenium) in diseases, such as cancer, and/or specifically in infant and pregnant women
  • Experimental studies that will expand my repertoire of laboratory techniques, including metabolomic, proteomic and genomic-based approaches


  • BSc Food Science and Engineering, Qilu University of Technology
  • MSc Food Science, University of Leeds