Photo of Dr. Xinli Zhang

Xinli  Zhang M.D., Ph.D.

Adjunct Professor
  • (310) 794-5479
2641 MRL / 30-121 CHS

UCLA School of Dentistry
10833 Le Conte Ave.
Box 951668
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1668

  • Full-Time Faculty
Academic Sections
  • Orthodontics

Dr. Xinli Zhang is an Adjunct Professor of research in the Division of Growth & Development within the Section of Orthodontics at UCLA School of Dentistry. Dr. Zhang was originally trained in China as a medical doctor specializing and practicing in pathology. He then earned his Ph.D. degree in Molecular Biology and Pathology studying the molecular mechanisms of liver carcinogenesis which was one of the most prevalent malignancies in China and East Asia. Before joining UCLA School of Dentistry in 1997, Dr. Zhang was the Vice-Chair of Department of Pathology with extensive administrative experience and concurrently held the academic title of Associate Professor since 1994. Dr. Zhang has devoted more than ten years of teaching and research endeavors to his alma mater and was awarded several research grants from the provincial and national science foundations in China before joining UCLA.

Dr. Zhang was recruited by Dr. Kang Ting to his research team in the Section of Orthodontics a year after he arrived at UCLA as a visiting scholar. He started working as a research associate /postdoctoral fellow, and worked dedicatedly for years before being promoted to Adjunct Assistant Professor in 2005. Dr. Zhang has been an active leading investigator on multiple basic and translational projects with a great deal of firsthand experience and hands-on experimental expertise in areas of molecular bone biology, adult stem cells, genetically-modified mouse models as well as preclinical large animal models for various bone and cartilage conditions including craniofacial anomalies. The impact of his two-decades’ research on a novel osteogenic molecule Nell-1 is illustrated through over 100 peer-reviewed publications in several prestigious journals including Journal of Clinical Investigation, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, Nature Communication, Stem Cells, Molecular Therapy, Biomaterials, Tissue Engineering, and American Journal of Pathology. In addition to conducting scientific research at the forefront, Dr. Zhang has also been a passionate mentor and educator to students of various backgrounds both in the lab and classroom. He highly appreciates the mutual relationship of the teaching-learning process between the mentor and mentees and takes great pride in seeing his mentees being recognized as First Place Winner of Hatton Award by AADR/IADR and the Young Investigator Award by ASBMR multiple times. 

Additional Information

Courses Taught

  • DS300.03a, OB226 (2008-2012), Craniofacial growth and development (Course co-chair)

  • DS308.09a (2006~present), Introduction to Research (Course Chair)

  • GDA103 (2016~present), Growth, Development, and Aging 103 (Guest lecturer)

  • OB275 (2018~), Molecular and Cellular Biology (Guest lecturer)

Educational & Professional Background
  • M.D., Third Military Medical University (TMMU), China, 1985

  • M.S., Tumor Pathology, TMMU, China, 1991

  • Ph.D., Molecular Pathology, TMMU, China, 1996

Research & Interests

Dr. Xinli Zhang’s research has been primarily focused on identifying functionalities, delineating the underlying molecular mechanisms, and exploring the translational potentials of a novel osteogenic factor Nell-1. Human Nell-1 was first cloned from a fetal brain cDNA library in 1996 without any known functions. Later its overexpression was first associated with human craniosynostosis (CS), and functionally validated in a Nell-1 overexpression transgenic mouse model in 1999 and 2002, respectively at Dr. Ting’s lab. Subsequently, a series of substantial studies on Nell-1’s osteogenic function and the underlying molecular mechanisms were conducted to pave a solid foundation for its translational study, and helped obtain millions of dollars’ research fund from NIH and other funding agents. Using FDA-approved BMP2 as the benchmark bone growth factor, Nell-1’s potentials as a novel therapeutic have been sustainably explored and evaluated for various bone and cartilage conditions in animal models from rodent to non-human primate for more than a decade, which helped generate an impressive portfolio of Nell-1 patents for licensing. Tissue engineering, human adipose tissue-derived stem cells, recombinant human Nell-1 protein production, modification and delivery as well as the functional and mechanistic comparative study of Nell-1 vs BMP2 are all the interests and major parts of Nell-1’s translational research. With the identification of Nell-1’s specific cell surface receptor Cntnap4 and the successful generation of Nell-1 and Cntnap4 conditional knockout mouse lines, the continuous exploration and research on Nell-1 at both basic and translational fronts would be expected for more fruitful outcomes in the future. Dr. Zhang’s other research areas include skin wound healing, craniofacial anomalies and comparative pathology in general.  

Professional Memberships
  • American and International Association for Dental Research (AADR/IADR)
  • American Society of Bone and Mineralization Research (ASBMR)
  • United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology (USCAP)
  • American Society of Investigative Pathology (ASIP)