Kun Ping Lu

Born: December 22, 1963 | Zhangzhou, CN

Kun Ping Lu was born in Pinghe County, a rural area of Fujian Province in southern China, one of six children. Despite his family's poverty and lack of influence, when Lu reached high school age, he was able to take an entrance exam. His teachers encouraged him to consider college. He was accepted into Fujian Medical School, where he worked in Wang Qinchun's lab. He began a master's program at Suzhou Medical College, where he studied atherosclerosis. There he became interested in cell-growth regulation. Lu had his first plane ride, his first car ride, and his first view of the United States on his way to work as a technician in Anthony Means's laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine. Eventually he was able to begin a doctoral program at Baylor; then he and the Means laboratory transferred to Duke University. Lu describes his doctoral work on calcium-calmodulin signaling in Aspergillus ;  the process of writing journal articles in the Means laboratory; and his postdoctoral fellowship in Tony Hunter's laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. From there Lu accepted a position at Harvard School of Medicine. Lu describes his lab; his current research on characterizing the function of peptidyl-prolyl isomerase Pin1 and telomere regulation in cell growth; the practical applications of his research; and the commercialization of his research. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0617
No. of pages: 143
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Karen A. Frenkel
3-5 August 2005
Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Kun Ping Lu was born in Pinghe County, a rural area of Fujian Province in southern China, one of six children. His father had been born into a poor farming family who adopted him out to a wealthy family who had one child of their own and five other adoptees. As a result, his father was able to get a college education and to become a teacher and reporter. Despite his family's poverty and lack of influence, when Lu reached high school age, he was able to take an entrance exam; previously education was permitted only to influential families. The Cultural Revolution had forced teachers from the cities to villages, and Lu found that he had extremely good teachers. These teachers encouraged him to consider college. The high school curriculum was weighted toward chemistry, physics, and mathematics, with very little biology. Lu had never seen or read a book that was not a textbook. Of a class of about 750, only three passed the college entrance exams. Here Lu describes his seven-hour walk to the city to take the exam; his emotions; his first taste of an apple; his first view of a city. Lu talks about his father, life in the countryside, his desire to study computer science, and a little more about the Chinese educational system. He was accepted into Fujian Medical School, where he worked in Wang Qinchun's lab. Lu decided to do graduate work after medical internship, for which he had to take a graduate entrance exam. He began a master's program at Suzhou Medical College, working in Dao-Sheng Wang's pharmacology laboratory, where he studied atherosclerosis. There he became interested in cell-growth regulation. He describes his research with Dao-Sheng Wang and Sheng Hao Chao on heavy metal substitution and calcium signaling in mammalian cells. During graduate school he met a young woman who was in medical school. They were not allowed to become romantically involved, so they were very careful to remain just friends. Eventually the young woman went back to her village to be a doctor, and the two continued to correspond. Forced to remain in China, Lu taught biochemistry for two years. He became friends with a tourist, Bert Goldberg, who agreed to send him a ticket to the United States, but his young woman friend would not be able to leave China unless she and Lu were married, so they married. Still, Lu went alone as he had only one ticket; he sent for her about six months later. Lu had his first plane ride, his first car ride, and his first view of the United States on his way to work as a technician in Anthony Means's laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine. Eventually he was able to begin a doctoral program at Baylor; then he and the Means laboratory transferred to DukeUniversity. Lu describes here his doctoral work on calcium-calmodulin signaling in Aspergillus; the process of writing journal articles in the Means laboratory; and his postdoctoral fellowship in Tony Hunter's laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. From there Lu accepted a position at Harvard School of Medicine. His wife, who had a medical degree, was unable to find a residency, and she had interrupted her postdoctoral work to follow Lu, so she took a job in Lu's lab. There she became instrumental in a number of discoveries. In addition, she had a child, their daughter, who is now twelve. Their daughter provides an entrée into a discussion of cultural and educational differences between China and America. Lu continues describing his lab; his current research on characterizing the function of peptidyl-prolyl isomerase Pin1 and telomere regulation in cell growth; the practical applications of his research; and the commercialization of his research. Lu talks more about his funding; his wife's career; how he manages his lab and its personnel; his love of scientific research; and competition and collaboration in science. Lu's work has led to studying Alzheimer's disease; this leads into a discussion of his future research in stem cells. He expresses his opinions on a variety of subjects important in science: his likes and dislikes about being a principal investigator; his role in the lab; publishing; his travel commitments; gender and ethnicity in science; public policy and the funding of science; patents; and the qualities of good science.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1984 Fujian Medical College MD
1987 Suzhou Medical College MSc Pharmacology
1991 Baylor College of Medicine PhD PhD Candidate
1992 Duke University PhD Cell Biology

Professional Experience

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

1993 to 1996
Research Associate, Molecular Biology

Harvard Medical School

1996 to 2001
Assistant Professor of Medicine
2001 to 2006
Associate Professor of Medicine

Beth Israel Hospital Boston

1996 to 2006
Research Staff

Honors

Year(s) Award
1984

Fujian Medical College Honors Graduate

1987 to 1988

Jiangsu Province Young Scientist Foundation Fellow

1993 to 1994

National Institutes of Health Fellow

1995 to 1996

Leukemia Society of America Fellow

1997 to 1998

Nathan Shock Center on Aging Pilot Project Award, Harvard Medical School

1998 to 2003

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America Scholar

1999 to 2004

Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences

1999

Young Investigator Award, the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America

1999

Harvard Medical School Nominee for Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

2000 to 2005

Co-Founder, Chair of Scientific Advisory Board, and member of Board of Directors, Pintex Pharmaceuticals (co-founders include Wally Gilbert; Pintex is sought to Vernalis)

2001

Nominee for the Biological and Biomedical Science Graduate Program Award for Mentoring, Harvard Medical School

2002

Harvard University Nominee for the Kirsch Investigator Award

2003

The Inaugural FEBS Letters' Annual Award for Young Scientists given at the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) Special Meeting on Signal Transduction in 2003

2003

Featured in the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center President's Society Brochure

2004 to 2008

Full member, NIA-N (Neuroscience of Aging) Review Committee National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Health

2004

2004 Beckman Frontiers of Science Symposium” invited by Dr. Bruce Alberts, the President of the National Academy of Sciences

2005 to 2006

Scientific consultant to Vernalis

Table of Contents

Childhood and College
1

Family background. China under Deng Xiaoping. Decision to pursue a college education. Influential teachers. College entrance exam in China. Father. Life in the countryside of China. Decision to study medicine.

Medical School, Graduate School, and Moving to the United States
28

More on the Chinese educational system. Acceptance at Fujian Medical School. View of city life in Fuzhou, China. College experiences. Meets Wang Qinchun and works in his laboratory. Decision to do graduate work after medical internship. Graduate entrance exam. Begins master's program at Suzhou Medical College. Works in Dao-Sheng Wang's pharmacology laboratory studying atherosclerosis. Becomes interested in cell-growth regulation. Research with Dao-Sheng Wang and Sheng Hao Chao at Xuzhou Medical School on heavy metal substitution and calcium signaling in mammalian cells. Move to Anthony Means's laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine. Meets future wife.

Baylor College of Medicine, Postdoctoral Work, and Harvard School of Medicine
60

Marriage. First impressions of the United States. Works as a technician inAnthony Means's laboratory. Begins doctoral program at Baylor College ofMedicine. Transfers with the Means laboratory to Duke University. Doctoral work on calcium-calmodulin signaling in Aspergillus. Writing journal articles in the Means laboratory. Postdoctoral fellowship in Tony Hunter's laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Accepts a position at Harvard School of Medicine. Wife's career. Daughter. Setting up lab. Current research on characterizing the function of peptidyl-prolyl isomerase Pin1 and telomere regulation in cell growth. Practical applications of research. Commercialization of research. Funding history. Wife's career trajectory. Handling difficult personal interactions in the lab. Laboratory management style. Competition in science.

The Practice of Science
104

Collaboration in science. Role in the lab. Writing journal articles. Travelcommitments. Current research on Alzheimer's disease. More on wife's career. Differences between the American and Chinese educational system. Educating the public about science. Gender. Underrepresented groups in science. Public policy issues and grant funding. Future research in stem-cells. Qualities of good science. Patents. Visits to China. Final comments.

Index
141

About the Interviewer

Karen A. Frenkel

Karen A. Frenkel is a writer, documentary producer, and author specializing in science and technology and their impacts on society. She wrote Robots: Machines in Man’s Image (Harmony 1985) with Isaac Asimov. Her articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including The New York TimesCyberTimesBusiness Week, Communications Magazine, DiscoverForbesNew Media, Personal Computing, Scientific American, Scientific American MIND, The Village Voice, and Technology Review. Ms. Frenkel’s award-winning documentary films, Net Learning and Minerva’s Machine: Women and Computing aired on Public Television. She has been an interviewer for Columbia University’s Oral History Research Center’s 9/11 Narrative and Memory project, The National Press Foundation’s Oral History of Women in Journalism, and the International Psychoanalytic Institute for Training and Research’s Oral History. Professional memberships include: The Authors Guild, National Association of Science Writers, Writer’s Guild of America East, and New York Women in Film and Television: Past Member of the Board and Director of Programming. Her website is www.Karenafrenkel.com.