Cheng-Yu Lee, PhD
Cheng-Yu Lee started his undergraduate study at the University of Maryland, College Park with the intention of entering a medical program and becoming a medical practitioner. During his junior year in college, however, the direction of his career path took an unexpected turn. Lee was accepted into the undergraduate honors research program in Biology working in the laboratory of Dr. Soichi Tanda studying the hedgehog ( hh) signal transduction pathway in developing Drosophila (fruit fly) compound eyes. This experience sparked his intense desire to understand deeper at the molecular level how a biological structure is formed properly in the context of development. Lee's honors thesis work was subsequently supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which allowed him to dive further into the amazing world of developmental biology.
During his thesis research, Lee was very intrigued by a number of pioneering studies indicating that cell death was an integral component of normal development. Therefore, he decided to pursue his graduate study on steroid regulation of autophagic programmed cell death in Drosophila in the laboratory of Dr. Eric H. Baehrecke at the University of Maryland, College Park. Lee's dissertation focused on a transcription factor called E93, which refined a systemic signaling molecule such as insect steroid hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone into stage- and tissue-specific cell death responses. Lee's work was recognized as the outstanding graduate thesis at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.
Prior to finishing his graduate thesis, Lee was very inspired by a number of seminal studies indicating stem cells possessed tremendous potential to maintain their "stemness"(self-renewal capability) while simultaneously generating a large number of diverse progeny (differentiation). These properties are pivotal in normal development, maintenance of homeostasis, and regeneration. Following completion of his doctoral thesis, Lee joined the laboratory of HHMI Investigator Chris Q. Doe, a leader in the field of Drosophila neural stem cell biology at the University of Oregon. Lee's post-doctoral research project focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms that allowed neural stem cells (neuroblasts) in flies to choose between self-renewal or differentiation. He was subsequently awarded with a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Post-doctoral Research Fellowship. With generous support from Dr. Doe, Lee's research project led to identification of the first genes shown to regulate neuroblast self-renewal in flies, and also discovery of several additional novel genes that were required for self-renewal or differentiation. Most recently, Lee's research project was recognized with 2006 Career Award in Biomedical Research by the Burroughs Wellcome Foundation.
Dr. Lee's current research projects focus on understanding the molecular mechanisms by which these newly identified fly genes regulate self-renewal vs. differentiation in fly neuroblasts. In addition, he will test the roles of these fly genes in regulation of vertebrate neural stem cell self-renewal. Lee's long-term goal is identify many signaling pathways expressed in both insect and vertebrate neural stem cells, and contribute to our understanding of neural stem cells in birth defects, regenerative medicine and cancer biology.