Emily Cheng, MD, PhD
Emily Cheng, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and of pathology and immunology, is recognized as an extraordinarily talented young scientist in the area of apoptosis.
Cheng earned her medical degree from Taipei Medical University and her PhD from Johns Hopkins University. As a graduate student, Cheng made several fundamental discoveries regarding the mechanisms by which BCL-2 family proteins regulate apoptosis. Her thesis yielded three first-authored papers in Nature, Science, and PNAS, as well as two co-first-authored papers in other leading journals.
After completing her clinical training in anatomic pathology, Cheng joined the lab of the late Stanley J. Korsmeyer, MD, a renowned cancer biologist, at Harvard Medical School. She demonstrated that the critical step of cell death commitment converges on BAX/BAK activation, established a model in which anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family proteins inhibit apoptosis by sequestering BH3-only molecules, and identified a novel participant in apoptosis, VDAC2, as a negative regulator of BAK. Cheng joined the Washington University faculty in 2004 and remains at the forefront of cell death research. Studies from her laboratory (1) subdivided the BH3-only molecules into BAX/BAK “activator” or BCL-2/BCL-XL/MCL-1 “inactivator” subgroups and established a unifying, hierarchical regulatory schema among BCL-2 subfamilies, (2) defined DNA damage-induced programmed necrotic death, (3) demonstrated a VDAC2-BAK rheostat in controlling thymocyte survival and negative selection, and (4) proposed a stepwise activation model of BAX/BAK in the initiation of mitochondrial apoptosis.
Cheng’s research accomplishments have been recognized throughout her career. As a graduate student, she received the 20th Young Investigator Award at Johns Hopkins; as a postdoctoral fellow, she received the HHMI Physician Scientist Award and the NCI Howard Temin Award; and as a junior faculty member, she is a Searle Scholar, an American Cancer Society Scholar, and a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation.