Stephen H. Tsang, MD, PhD

Stephen H. Tsang, MD, PhD

Research Interest

Course co-director, BMENE6510 Stem Cells, Genome Engineering

As a result of his groundbreaking metabolome reprogramming research, Dr. Tsang has earned a reputation as one of the world's foremost authority in therapeutics of neurodegenerative disoders. 

Dr Tsang's genome engineering laboratory is engaged in tackling neurodegenerative disorders by pursuing investigations in three areas, two of which include patient-specific mouse models: probing the role of phosphodiesterase (PDE) signaling in neurodegeneration, developing stem cell-based therapies for photoreceptor degeneration, and correlating the genotypes of various human retinal degenerations with the phenotypes revealed in live metabolic imaging (autofluorescence). We are also currently focused on genome engineering/CRISRP approaches to reprogamming metabolome in photoreceptor to promote cell survival, which may be broadly applicable to retinal degenerative diseases, regardless of the mutation. While light-adapted normal photoreceptors have a highly anabolic and aerobic (high lactate) metabolism similar to the Warburg effect observed in stem cells, dark-adapted photoreceptors have catabolism (low lactate), high-ATP metabolism similar to neurons. To translate this anabolic therapy to humans (who would rightly reject being maintained in darkness), our laboratory is developing  “genetic sunglasses” to promote a constant dark-adapted metabolic state in photoreceptor neurons while maintaining a normal light-dark circadian environment.

  • Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
  • Internship: New York Hospital Queens
  • Residency: UCLA - Jules Stein Eye Institute
  • Fellowship: Moorfields Eye Hospital, London

co-director, Basic Science Course in Ophthalmology, CUMC

co-director, Stem Cell, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

American Soceity for Clinical Investigation;

Macular Society;

NIH DPVS study section

  • Named Lectureships
  • 2006                   Dr. Isaac Bekhor Lecturer, Doheny Eye Institute at University of Southern California (9/29)
  • 2013                   Dr. Paul Stringer Memorial Lectureship, McMaster University
  • 2013                   Dr. Bradley Straastma Lecturer, Resident Graduation, UCLA
  • 2015                   Dr. Joginder Nath Lecturer, West Virginia U. School of Medicine
  • 2016                   Lecturer, World Science Festival, CRISPR Technologies
  • 1988 – 1989       Alpha Epsilon Delta, National Premedical Honor Society, Maryland Alpha (Historian)
  • 1988 – 1989       Dean’s List, The Johns Hopkins University
  • 1989                   Graduate with Departmental Honor
  • 1989                   Recipient of Student Activities Award, The Johns Hopkins University
  • 1989 – 1997       NIH-National Institute of General Medical Sciences Medical Scientist Training Program: MSTP fellowship PHS Grant #T32GM073667-14
  • 1995                   ARVO/National Eye Institute Travel Fellowship Grant for the 1995 ARVO meeting
  • 1996                   Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research, Graduate Sch of Arts & Sciences, Columbia U. Dr. Alfred Steiner Award for Best Medical Student Research, Columbia U.
  • 1997                   Best Overall Presentation at Eastern Student Research Forum sponsored by American Medical Association and the University of Miami
  • 1997                   Travel Grant, European Students’ Conference at the Charité in Berlin
  • 1998                   Edith McKane Award in Ophthalmology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia U.
  • 1998                   John Lattimer Award in Urology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia U.
  • 2000                   Jules Stein Eye Institute Research Award
  • 2000                   RPB-Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology (AUPO) Resident Award
  • 2001 – present   Fight for Sight/Grant-In-Aid Review Panel Member
  • 2003                   Burroughs-Wellcome Fund Career Award in Biomedical Sciences
  • 2003                   RPB Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology Resident Award
  • 2003                   Nesburn Resident Award
  • 2004                   Dennis W. Jahnigen Award, American Geriatrics Society
  • 2005                   Becker-AUPO-RPB Award
  • 2006                   ARVO/Alcon Early Career Clinician Scientist Award
  • 2007                   Charles E. Culpeper Award
  • 2008                   Teacher Recognition Award, Columbia U.
  • 2008 – 2009       Listed as one of “America’s Top Ophthalmologists” by Consumers’ Research Council of America                                                                                 
  • 2009                   Patients' Choice Award for 2008
  • 2009                   Elected to Macular Society
  • 2010                   Keynote Speaker, GTCbio 2nd Annual Ocular Disease & Drug Discovery  conferen. May 28, 2010
  • 2012                   Invited Lecturer, University of Geneva
  • 2013, 14             Elected by his peers for inclusion in Best Doctors in America®
  • 2013                   ARVO Foundation Carl Camras Award
  • 2014                   Foundation Fighting Blindness Visionary Award Recipient and “Banking on a Cure” Honoree
  • 2015                   ARVO 2015 Annual Meeting Gene Editing Symposium Invited Lecturer in Denver, Colorado
  • 2015                   Elected to American Ophthalmological Society
  • 2015                   Invited Lecturer,Deutsche Ophthalmologische Gesellschaft DOG
  • 2015                   Plenary lecture, Rensselaer Center for Stem Cell Research (RCSCR) - Symposium
  • 2015                   Chair,  Gene Editing/Rewriting the Genome Symposium American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting
  • 2016                   Elected to American Society for Clinical Investigation
  • 2018                   Young Investigator Award, Macular Society

2008–2023 NIH-R01EY018213; PI: Stephen Tsang; Direct Costs: $250,000 per year

Defining Barriers to Gene Therapy

2015–2020 NIH-1R01EY024698; PI: Stephen Tsang; Direct Costs: $286,665 per year

Genome Surgery in Stem Cells

2016–2020 NIH 1R01EY026682; MPI ; Direct Costs: $318,599 per year

Regenerative Medicine Approaches to Childhood Blindness

2015-2017 R21AG050437; Direct Costs: $175,821 per year

Genome Surgery in patient specific stem cells

2014-2017 New York State C029572; PI: Stephen Tsang; Direct Costs: $300,00 per year

Comparative Effectiveness of Embryonic and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-based Therapies

Investigate the safety and efficacy of iPS-derived RPE grafts to restore vision in mouse models of both retinal damage and retinal degeneration.

2010–2016 Foundation Fighting Blindness Center C-NY05-0705-0312; co-PI: Stephen Tsang $70,00 per year

Electrophysiology and Imaging Module.

  • Chun Wei Hsu, MS, Lentiviral Research Assistant
  • Richard Davis, PhD, Associate Research Scientist
  • Katherine J. Wert, PhD Student
  • Susanne Koch, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Wen-Hsuan Wu, AAV, CRISPR Research Assistant
  • Iris Yao Li, MD, Reprogramming Fellow
  • Yi-Ting Tsai, PhD student (Metabolic Biology)
  • Jin Yang, MD, SILAC Fellow
  • Lijuan Zhang, MD, Metabolomics Research Fellow
  • Tharikarn Sujirakul, MD, Ion Torrent Fellow
  • Deniz Erol, Research Assistant

2014–2019                  Global Phase III Trial of Collategene (AMG0001)  Critical Limb Ischemia

2014-2017                   Phase III Trial of AZD9291 versus Platinum-Based Doublet Chemotherapy Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

2014–2017                  ENDEAR Phase III Trial of ISIS-SMNRx Infantile-Onset Spinal Muscular Atrophy

2014–2016                  SUMIT Phase III Trial of Selumetinib (AZD6244: ARRY-142886) (Hyd-Sulfate) Metastatic Uveal Melanoma

2014–2016                  STARRS Phase II Trial of Selinexor (KPT-330) Squamous Cell Carcinoma

2014–2016                  Phase II Trial of AZD9291Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

2013–2018                  Phase I/II Trial of ASP2215 Treatment-Refractory Acute myeloid Leukemia FLT3 Mutation

2013–2018                  Study Title: A Phase 3 Open-Label, Multicenter, Randomized Study of ASP2215 versus Salvage Chemotherapy in Patients with Relapsed or Refractory Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
2013–2018                  Phase III Trial of MK-8931m Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment in Alzheimer’s Disease

2013–2017                  APOLLO Phase III Trial of Patisiran (ALN-TTR02)TTR-mediated Amyloidosis

2013–2015                  Phase II Clinical Trial of Revusiran (ALN-TTRsc) TTR-mediated Cardiac Amyloidosis

2015-2018                    Phase II Clinical Trial of AAV2-REP1 Choroideremia gene therapy

H-index 44

Gene therapy and genome surgery in the retina. DiCarlo JE, Mahajan VB, Tsang SH.  Journal of Clinical Investigation.  2018 Jun 1;128(6):2177-2188.

Tsang S.H., Gouras P., Yamashita C.K., Fisher J., Farber D.B., and Goff SP (1996). Retinal Degeneration in Mice Lacking the γ subunit of cGMP phosphodiesterase. Science 272: 1026-1029.

Tsang S.H., Burns, M. E., Calvert, P. D., Gouras, P., Baylor, D. A., Goff, S. P., and Arshavsky, V. Y. (1998). Role of the Target Enzyme in Deactivation of Photoreceptor G Protein in Vivo. Science. 282, 117-21.

Tsang S.H., Woodruff, M. L., Chen, C. K., Yamashita, C. Y., Cilluffo, M. C., Rao, A. L., Farber, D. B., and Fain, G. L. (2006). Modulation of phosphodiesterase6 turnoff during background illumination in mouse rod photoreceptors J Neurosci 26, 4472-4480.

Wert KJ, Mahajan VB, Zhang L, Yan Y, Li Y, Tosi J, Hsu CW, Nagasaki T, Janisch KM, Grant MB, Mahajan M, Bassuk AG, Tsang SH. Neuroretinal hypoxic signaling in a new preclinical murine model for proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Signal Transduct Target Ther. 2016;1. pii: 16005. Epub 2016 Apr 22. PubMed PMID: 27195131; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4868361.

Petersen-Jones S.M., Occelli L.M., Winkler P.A., Lee W., Sparrow J.R., Tsukikawa M., Boye S.L., Chiodo V., Capasso J.E., Becirovic E., Schön C., Seeliger M.W., Levin A.V., Michalakis S., Hauswirth W.W., Tsang S.H. (2018). Patients and animal models of CNGβ1-deficient retinitis pigmentosa support gene augmentation approach. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 128(1):190-206. doi:10.1172/JCI95161.

1. Li, Y, Tsai, YT, Hsu, CW, Erol, D, Yang, J, Wu, WH, Davis, Richard, Egli, Dieter, TSANG, STEPHEN H. Long-term safety and efficacy of human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) grafts in a preclinical model of retinitis pigmentosa. Molecular Medicine18: 1312-1319. Cited 55 times.                                                      

Contribution: This high-impact study used a preclinical model for retinitis pigmentosa (RP) to provide the first evidence for human iPS-cell-mediated recovery of visual function. Therefore, this research provided critical feasibility data for therapies using autologous iPS-cell transplantation to treat retinal degenerations in humans. This study is also one of the first to provide strong in vivo preclinical evidence that this potential cell therapy does not induce tumor formation. This discovery was featured in numerous news outlets – including a Medscape Medical News article (1/7/13), and in two Columbia University Medical Center press releases (10/1/12 and 12/20/12).


2. Wert, K.J., Sancho-Pelluz, J., Davis, R.J., Nishina, P.M., and TSANG, S.H. Gene Therapy Provides Long-term Visual Function in a Pre-clinical Model of Retinitis Pigmentosa. (2013) Human Molecular Genetics. 22:558-567. Cited 18 times.

Contribution: This manuscript is unique in the field of gene therapy in that it demonstrates stable, sustained rescue – both functional and structural. These strong feasibility data provide a solid foundation for moving forward with gene-therapy in patients with a specific genetic form of retinitis pigmentosa (RP). In fact, we are currently recruiting patients for our upcoming gene-therapy trial, “Bringing Gene Supplementation Therapy for PDE6-associated Retinopathies into Clinical Practice” (funded by Tistou and Charlotte Kerstan Foundation).


3. Li Y, Wu W-H, Hsu C-W, Nguyen H-V, Tsai Y-T, Nagasaki T, Maumenee IH, Yannuzzi LA, Hoang QV, Hua H, Egli D, TSANG, S.H. Gene therapy in patient-specific stem cell lines and a preclinical model of retinitis pigmentosa with membrane frizzled-related protein (MFRP) defects. (2014) Molecular Therapy. 2014 Sep;22(9):1688-97. Cited 15 times.

Contribution: This is the first demonstration that patient-specific induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells can be used to model a disease phenotype, and study its etiology. This is also the first report of human iPS-derived cells being successfully used as a recipient for viral gene therapy.


4. Yang J, Li Y, Chan L, Tsai YT, Wu WH, Nguyen HV, Hsu CW, Li X, Brown LM, Egli D, Sparrow JR, TSANG, S.H. (2014) Validation of genome-wide association study (GWAS)-identified disease risk alleles with patient-specific stem cell lines. Human Molecular Genetics. Jan 31. PMID: 24497574.  Cited 27 times.

Contribution: In vitro models for age-related diseases are invariably based on immortal cells, which are inherently unsuitable for modeling diseases of aging. In this study, we developed a novel human stem-cell-based model for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an ocular disease with high incidence. We then used these cells to determine the function of two important, but poorly understood AMD risk factors. This is the first demonstration that patient-specific induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells can be used to model a late onset disease phenotype, and study its etiology.


5. Koch SF, Tsai YT, Duong JK, Wu WH, Hsu CW, Wu WP, Bonet-Ponce L, Lin CS, TSANG SH. (2) Halting progressive neurodegeneration in advanced retinitis pigmentosa. 2015. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2015 Sep;125(9):3704-13. doi: 10.1172/JCI82462. Epub 2015 Aug 24. PMID:26301813. Cited 5 times.

Koch SF, Duong JK, Hsu CW, Tsai YT, Lin CS, Wahl-Schott CA, Tsang SH. Genetic rescue models refute nonautonomous rod cell death in retinitis pigmentosa. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 May 16;114(20):5259-5264.

Contribution: Recent follow-up studies to the human RPE65 gene therapy trials demonstrated that the interventions failed to halt or even slow photoreceptor degeneration. As a means to explain this treatment failure, it was suggested that the diseased photoreceptors had reached a “point-of-no-return.” In this report, we tested this hypothesis in an RP mouse model, using a novel driver to deliver therapy to all rod photoreceptors at early, mid, and late disease stages. In these optimally treated retinas, not only was function rescued, but photoreceptor degeneration was also halted. Critically, we demonstrated significant sustained rescue, even at the late disease stage.

6. Wu WH, Tsai YT, Justus S, Lee TT, Zhang L, Lin CS, Bassuk AG, Mahajan VB, TSANG SH. CRISPR Repair Reveals Causative Mutation in a Preclinical Model of Retinitis Pigmentosa. Molecular Therapy 2016 Aug;24(8):1388-94. doi: 10.1038/mt.2016.107. Epub 2016 May 20. PMID:27203441. New publication (May 20), no citations yet.

Contribution: In the current era of next-generation sequencing, copious genetic variants are identified. This report illustrates how CRISPR can be used to validate sequence variants, distinguish between their pathogenicity, and elucidate disease pathophysiology. We applied CRISPR/Cas9 to resolve a century-long debate on the molecular origins of the Pde6brd1/Pde6brd1 (Rd1) mouse., Rd1 mice express two mutations – a murine leukemia virus (Xmv-28) insertion and a nonsense mutation (C to A transversion) in codon 347 – that still remain controversial. We sought to determine whether one or both of these mutations engenders the fast-progressing retinal deterioration typical of Rd1 mice.


7. Moshfegh Y, Velez G, Li Y, Bassuk AG, Mahajan VB, TSANG SH. BESTROPHIN1 mutations cause defective chloride conductance in patient stem cell-derived RPE. Hum Mol Genet. 2016 May 18. pii: ddw126. PMID: 27193166. New publication (May 18), no citations yet.

Contribution: Mutations in the BEST1 gene are clearly linked to eye disease in human RPE, including Best vitelliform macular dystrophy. The mechanism linking mutations in the gene to eye pathology is unknown, and the question of whether BEST1 is a bona fide chloride channel has been remaining in the field.  In this report we show that BEST1 encodes a predicted transmembrane anion channel that is calcium-activated and highly permeable to chloride ions. We have taken advantage of iPSC-RPE cell modeling of BEST1 disease, and developed a new approach for directly measuring chloride currents in live patient RPE with a biosensor.

8. Zhang L, Justus S, Xu Y, Pluchenik T, Hsu CW, Yang J, Duong JK, Lin CS, Jia Y, Bassuk AG, Mahajan VB, TSANG SH. Reprogramming towards anabolism impedes degeneration in a preclinical model of retinitis pigmentosa. Hum Mol Genet. 2016 Aug 11. pii: ddw256. PMID: 27516389. New publication (Aug 11), no citations yet.

Contribution: In RP, outer segment (OS) gets shortening which triggers photoreceptor death is mainly due to the imbalance between anabolic and catabolic processes. OS is shed and regenerated daily, but in disease photoreceptors, the rate of shedding exceeds the rate of renewal, leading to significantly shorter OS, excessive anabolic demands and subsequent death. Augmenting anabolism could theoretically fuel protein and lipid synthesis, thus encouraging OS regenesis.  Ablation of Tsc1, a transcriptional inhibitor of the mTOR pathway, preserved the structure and function of diseased rod and cone photoreceptors in a preclinical model of RP.

9. Yang J, Bassuk AG, Merl-Pham J, Hsu CW, Colgan DF, Li X, Au KS, Zhang L, Smemo S, Justus S, Nagahama Y, Grossbach AJ, Howard MA 3rd, Kawasaki H, Feldstein NA, Dobyns WB, Northrup H, Hauck SM, Ueffing M, Mahajan VB, TSANG SH. Catenin delta-1 (CTNND1) phosphorylation controls the mesenchymal to epithelial transition in astrocytic tumors. Hum Mol Genet. 2016 Aug 11. pii: ddw253. PMID:27516388. New publication (Aug 11), no citations yet.

Contribution: The tuberosclerosis complex (TSC) syndrome is due to mutations in the mTOR modulator, TSC, and so likely holds the key to major questions regarding the function of mTOR in humans. A major phenotype of TSC is the development of non-malignant astrocytomas in the brain. Using a comprehensive battery of tests, we show the key feature controlling this phenotype is catenin delta-1 phosphorylation by mTOR signaling Our findings suggest malignant and benign astrocytomas differ in this phosphorylation event. The TSC astrocyte phenotype implies they are trapped in the mesenchyme to epithelium transition, and that mTOR tunes this reversible process.

10. Lijuan Zhang, Jianhai Du, Sally Justus, Chun-Wei Hsu, Luis Bonet-Ponce, Wen-Hsuan Wu, Yi-Ting Tsai , Wei-Pu Wu, Yading Jia, Jimmy K. Duong, Vinit B. Mahajan, Chyuan-Sheng Lin,  Shuang Wang, James B. Hurley, STEPHEN H TSANG.   Reprogramming Sirtuin 6 attenuates retinal degeneration  Journal of Clinical Investigation.2016;126(12):4659–4673.

Contribution: In healthy photoreceptors, glycolysis is balanced by gluconeogenesis; in degenerating rods, the rate of glycolysis is compromised. In our manuscript, we show that reprogramming rods into a state of perpetual glycolytic flux by knockdown of Sirtuin 6 (Sirt6), a transcriptional repressor, preserved the structure and function of diseased rod and cone photoreceptors in a preclinical model of RP. The vast heterogeneity of RP limits the applicability of gene editing strategies to ameliorating the disease, and developing a therapy that is not gene specific is highly desirable. 

For a complete list of publications, please visit

  • Neural Degeneration and Repair 
  • Genome Surgery 
  • Gene Therapy