MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease

Translating today's discoveries into tomorrow's cures

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Zhang, Can (Martin), MD, PhD

Assistant Professor in Neurology, Harvard Medical School
Assistant in Neuroscience, Massachusetts General Hospital 
Office Phone: 617-724-9850
FAX: 617-724-1823
Lab Address: Building 114, 16th Street


Can (Martin) Zhang’s research is focused on identifying the mechanism of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), with the goal of identifying molecular targets and biomarkers that will translate into the development of novel therapeutic strategies for AD. The pathogenesis of AD is believed to be primarily driven by amyloid-B (AB), the principal component of senile plaques in the brain. Zhang has discovered or characterized several genetic or pharmacologic modulators of AB production and clearance, including the AD risk gene ataxin-1 (ATXN1), the spice component curcumin and its analogs, and the cancer drug bexarotene. Zhang elucidated the mechanism of a new class of highly promising AD treatments, the APP-selective γ-secretase modulators (GSMs). GSMs are a group of small molecules that lower plaque formation by specifically modulating the processing of APP to AB by the γ-secretase protease. The GSMs, which function differently from non-selective γ-secretase inhibitors whose clinical development was stopped because of side effects, are expected to proceed into AD clinical trials in the coming years. In addition, Zhang is currently studying the role of immune regulatory cytokines and dietary and environmental factors in the pathogenesis of AD in conventional cell and mouse models and in novel nanofiber-based single-cell models of the disease.  


After earning an MD at Weifang Medical College in China, Dr. Zhang became interested in understanding and modulating disease pathology at the molecular level. After pursing an MS in immunology in China, he studied at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he received his PhD degree in 2007 in Molecular Biology with an emphasis on neuroscience. He did postdoctoral training with Dr. Rudolph Tanzi in the Genetics and Aging Research Unit of MGH. Zhang was appointed an HMS Instructor in Neurology in 2010, and an Assistant Professor in Neurology in 2013.