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Two New Faculty Join The Department of Biochemistry

Two New Faculty Join The Department of Biochemistry

The department of Biochemistry is excited to announce two new faculty members, Dr. Wen Tao Deng and Dr. Michael Robichaux! They joined the department at the end of March and are assistant professors in both the Department of Biochemistry and Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

Dr. Deng received her bachelor’s degree in biology at Lanzhou University in China and worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Science. She went to the University of Florida for her PhD degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology. In her career, Dr. Deng has been awarded for outstanding doctoral thesis and best presentation in the University of Florida Molecular and Cellular Biology program and a recipient of the National Eye Institute post-doctoral fellowship. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, biking, and long walks listening to audiobooks. Dr. Deng looks forward to working with her colleagues and is excited for her position here at WVU!

Interview with Dr. Deng:

How did you get into your field of science? Was there a specific “a-ha” kind of moment?

When I was growing up and deciding what to study, we did not have a lot of exposure to understand different fields of science. I knew I was interested in biology in college and studied molecular biology up until my doctorate. I ended up entering the field of ophthalmology as a post doctorate through working with adeno-associated virus, a leading platform for gene delivery for the treatment of a variety of human diseases. I transitioned to applying my work with AAV to gene therapies in ophthalmology.

Why did you choose to come work for West Virginia University?

I have collaborated previously with vision scientists in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at WVU, specifically in my work on characterizing retinal degeneration. During the interview process, I felt that the Department chair was very supportive of my career and genuinely interested in the work that I do. Overall, I am excited for the many opportunities to work with my colleagues and be in such a collaborative environment.

What are you hoping to accomplish at WVU?

My research is centered on developing gene therapies for inherited retinal diseases.  I want to use my startup and my RO1 grant to establish a well-funded research lab, where I can make an impact on translational research with clinical applications, as well as actively training postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate students.

What is special about WVU to you?

The environment at WVU is extremely supportive. Additionally, I like the small-town atmosphere of Morgantown. I enjoy the outdoor activities that it offers, especially the many trails and parks everywhere.

What would you tell a new student going into the BMB Program, or what stood out to you from your educational experience and training to give advice to students?

From the short time I have been here, I feel that faculty members are genuinely putting effort to do what they think are the best for students. During faculty meetings, they discuss in details the best approach to get students from different backgrounds to understand the research areas the program offers and help students to identify their research interests. They are trying their best to create a welcoming and rich education experience for the students. I think students will receive lots of support from the faculty members and from the program. These education experience and support will give them a solid foundation to pursue their future research careers.

What is the most rewarding part of your position?

The position offers me the opportunity to pursue the research in which I am interested. I also enjoy the experience it offers in interacting with young people. 

What is the best thing about being in your career/what you do?

My research is focused on developing therapy for patients with inherited retinal disorders. The disease I am working on right now, blue cone monochromacy (BCM), almost exclusively affects males in their childhood. BCM patients have poor visual acuity, color blindness, light intolerance, and are severely myopic. I hope my research can offer some hope for these patients. 

What is your research about?

Our vision allows us to appreciate the world around us, letting us see fine details and color. Vision is generated when proteins in our photoreceptor cells convert light into electrical signals that are decoded in our brain. Mutations in genes that function in photoreceptors disrupt this process and eventually manifest as visual impairment or blindness. My research centers on gene therapy to develop treatments for some devastating forms of blindness by either supplement the missing protein, or by destroying the “bad” protein, or by gene editing to correct the mutation.


Dr. Robichaux went straight to graduate school after receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2008 from Nicholls State University. He completed his PhD degree in neuroscience from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.  In his career, Dr. Robichaux won talk and poster awards as a graduate student and as a post-doctoral fellow at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. As a post-doctoral fellow, he was awarded an F32 fellowship and a Knights Templar Foundation grant. He enjoys spending time with his three children, reading giant fantasy and comic books, and was also a musician in a past life. Dr. Robichaux agrees that “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is a great song but “Calypso” is a brilliant John Denver gem that everyone should check out!

Interview with Dr. Robichaux:

How did you get into your field of science? Was there a specific “a-ha” kind of moment?

As a student in the neuroscience program at UT Southwestern in Dallas, Texas, I was always fascinated with both neuronal cell biology and sensory neuroscience. I chose to specialize in the retina and join the field of vision research because photoreceptor neurons in particular are so wonderfully complex and specialized. Any time that I capture the retina on a microscopic level is an “a-ha” moment for me.

Why did you choose to come work for West Virginia University?

To name a few things: The level of research at WVU is outstanding. Some of my favorite vision research labs are at WVU already. Everyone works together and shares resources, and the campus is beautiful.

What are you hoping to accomplish at WVU?

I hope to build a research team in my laboratory that is highly motivated by discovery, and I would like to develop new applications of microscope technology here for my research.

What is special about WVU to you?

I get a real sense of an academic culture in the labs at WVU. Their pursuit of science is strong and very invigorating.

What would you tell a new student going into the BMB Program, or what stood out to you from your educational experience and training to give advice to students?

Always, always, always ask for help, even if it means writing the most awkward-sounding e-mails of your life and read papers. Print them out and tape them to your laptop screen to make yourself read them. My best ideas came from reading the literature.

What is the most rewarding part of your position?

Probably when me and my technician carved through 20 pounds of a cardboard box to unpack a refrigerator. The real answer is that I don’t know yet! Hopefully that refrigerator works and stays cold.

What is the best thing about being in your career/what you do?

Science is like a fun puzzle game where you can use a bunch of different strategies to get to a solution. It’s really fun. I also like using microscopes with high-powered lasers.

What is your research about?

We use advanced microscopy techniques to try to figure out how photoreceptor neurons in the retina work and continue functioning throughout life. We use the same approaches to also discover how genetic mutations that lead to blindness disrupt normal photoreceptor cell biology.


Both Dr. Deng and Dr. Robichaux are recruiting motivated scientists in all levels: undergraduate and graduate students, research technicians, and post-doctoral fellows. Please check out their lab websites below!

Dr. Wen Tao Deng's Website

Dr. Michael Robichaux's Website


Group picture from left to right: Dr. Robichaux, his lab technician, Kristen Haggerty, Dr. Deng, and her post-doc, Emily Sechrest