Sophie Deng, M.D., Ph.D.

Sophie Deng, M.D., Ph.D.  

Professor, Cornea Division; Director, Cornea Biology Laboratory, Jules Stein Eye Institute


Sophie Deng, M.D., Ph.D., is dedicated to improving treatment options for patients with diseases of the cornea, which is the outermost layer of the eye. These diseases include limbal stem cell deficiency, stromal opacity, and endothelial dysfunction. Deng treats patients with corneal and external ocular diseases, as well as cataracts. Her clinical and scientific goal is to eliminate the need for direct transplantation of corneal tissue through the development of cell-based therapies that regenerate the cornea and restore vision.

Diseases of the cornea are the fourth most common cause of blindness, causing an estimated 25 million people to lose sight worldwide. Corneal blindness is curable through the transplantation of a donated cornea. However, transplants are risky as transplanted tissue from a donor can be rejected by the patient’s immune system. Furthermore, while there is no waiting list for corneal transplants in the United States, corneal blindness worldwide far outstrips the availability of corneal tissue for transplant.

Throughout life, the corneal surface is regenerated by limbal stem cells that reside in neighboring eye tissue. Some people do not have enough limbal stem cells to keep up with the loss of corneal cells. This condition, called limbal stem cell deficiency, can be caused by genetic defects or by injuries such as inflammation, infection or chemical burns. Deng is conducting pre-clinical research to develop a cell engineering method that would enable clinicians to extract a small number of limbal stem cells from a patient’s eye and multiply those cells in the lab. This new expanded population of limbal stem cells would then be returned to the patient in the form of a one-time transplant to continuously regenerate the cornea and restore vision. In parallel, Deng is developing new non-invasive methods to diagnose and classify limbal stem cell deficiencies.

Another area of Deng’s translational research focuses on developing methods to regenerate corneal endothelial cells, which make up the inner lining of the cornea, to treat corneal edema, the leading indication for corneal transplant in the U.S. Deng’s laboratory investigates the optimal conditions to expand patients’ own corneal endothelial cells and seeks to develop methods to create corneal endothelial cells from induced pluripotent stem cells.

Deng received doctorate degrees in medicine, and in immunology and microbiology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She completed her residency in ophthalmology at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary and subsequently completed a fellowship in Cornea, External Ocular Disease and Refractive Surgery at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute.



Honors & Affiliations


  • Achievement Award, American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2016


  • Fellow, American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • Board of directors, The Cornea Society
  • Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology
  • Women in Ophthalmology


Deng’s work is funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the National Institutes of Health and Research to Prevent Blindness.

Clinical Trials