Zhen Meng, PhD student

07118561Working in the lab of her mentor, Professor Sarah Hamm-Alvarez, PhD candidate Zhen Meng studies the mechanisms that cause Sjögren’s Syndrome-associated dry eye problems.

The surface of the eye, known as the tear film, is structurally complex, and multiple factors are involved in keeping it clean and wet in order to provide clear vision as well as protection from injury and pathogens. Meng studies the processes that mediate tear proteins released by the acinar cells of the lacrimal gland, which lies above the outer corner of each eye. Underproduction of aqueous tears by the lacrimal gland can lead to dry eye syndrome and subsequent vision impairment and other concerns.

Meng has been honored a number of times while a USC student, including an award for her poster, “RAB3D AND RAB27 Play Distinct Roles in Regulating Tear Protein Secretion from Lacrimal Gland Acinar Cells,” at the 2013 USC Moving Targets Symposium, a 2013 Travel Award at the Tfos eye health conference, in Sicily, for “significant scientific achievements in the field of tear film and ocular surface research.” In February 2015, she received the poster award and was selected as a speaker at the Gordon Research Conference-Salivary Glands and Exocrine Biology 2015 in Galveston, Texas.

She grew up in the coastal Shandong Province in China, but traveled to California for graduate school, drawn by USC’s diversity and the breadth and depth of its research programs. “I was impressed by the variety of research directions within the faculty at USC and the opportunities I would have to focus on my specific interests,” she says.

Though she is a long way from home, her family remains a source of strength. “My parents have always encouraged me to be the best of myself,” she says. “I came to USC to do just that, and to follow my dreams. You can always be inspired when you do something you really like.”