Charleen T. Chu, MD, PhD – ASIP Robbins Distinguished Educator Awardee 2020

Dr. Charleen T. Chu is Professor and Vice-Chair for Faculty Mentorship in the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where she holds the endowed A. Julio Martinez Chair in Neuropathology. She is Director of Ophthalmic Pathology and Co-Director of the Pathologist Investigator Residency-Research Training Program. Dr. Chu enjoys interdisciplinary research and is committed to mentorship.

A physician-scientist devoted to elucidating cellular, biochemical and molecular genetic mechanisms that protect against neurodegeneration, Dr. Chu graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. in Biology from Harvard College, followed by training in the Duke University Medical Scientist Training Program, obtaining her Ph.D. in Pathology-Biochemistry. Following residency & fellowship training in Anatomic Pathology, Neuropathology, Ophthalmic Pathology and a post-doc in cell signaling, she joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 1998. Her most transformative basic science discoveries in neuronal stress signaling and selective mitophagy were inspired by observations made while studying human patient pathology.

Her current research directions center on mechanisms by which gene products implicated in neurodegenerative diseases act to regulate neuronal differentiation, dendritic remodeling and spinogenesis, with emphasis on protein interactions, post-translational modifications and all aspects of the mitochondrial lifecycle. Using unbiased methods, Dr. Chu’s laboratory defined a novel neuroprotective signaling axis involving PTEN-induced protein 1 (PINK1) and valosin-containing protein (VCP), proteins causally implicated in Parkinsonian neurodegeneration and frontotemporal dementia. Employing primary brain cell cultures, iPSC-derived neurons, patient-derived samples and transgenic mice, her group is studying the role of dysregulated proteostasis, cell signaling and mitochondrial biology in genetic models of neurodegeneration.

Dr. Chu has been a member of ASIP since 2002. Currently serving in an elected position on the Nominating Committee, Dr. Chu has served on the Education Committee, the Organizing Committee for the Summer Academy, the Meritorious Awards Committee, and the Committee for Career Development, Women & Minorities, organizing the Mentoring Luncheon “Opening Doors: Networking and Professional Visibility.” From 2004-2012, she was heavily involved as module leader and faculty lecturer for multiple ASIP-sponsored FASEB Pathobiology courses and two Mid-Summer Academies on Molecular Mechanisms of Human Diseases.

Dr. Chu’s work has been recognized by numerous honors, including the Emerging Female Scientist Carnegie Science Award (2010), the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) Honor Society (elected 2010), the ASIP Outstanding Investigator Award (2010), the American Association of University Pathologists – The Pluto Society (inducted 2016), and the 2020 ASIP Robbins Distinguished Educator Award.

In his nomination letter, Dr. Michalopoulos stated, “I know of no other faculty member with such a widespread and sustained influence on pathology education at so many levels (from high school to mid-career faculty)…as a practicing diagnostic pathologist, principal investigator and educator… She has worked tirelessly at promoting the entry, retention and successful transition of young women and men to academic careers in both investigational and diagnostic Pathology.” Her nomination was supported by Dr. Paul Monga and Dr. Liang-An Kang, along with first person accounts from numerous former students, lab members and faculty mentees. On a programmatic level, Dr. Chu developed a widely emulated grantsmanship course for MSTP students, co-developed the Pathologist Investigator Residency-Research Training Program with her husband Tim Oury, M.D., Ph.D., and instituted a novel series of Pathology Faculty Development workshops. Dr. Monga notes “that Dr. Chu’s efforts to promote pathologist-investigator careers by addressing root causes of attrition from the training pipeline foreshadowed the current interest of both NIH and the ABP by more than 15 years.” She has a superb record of personal mentorship of students at all levels, post-doctoral fellows and junior faculty. Two-thirds of Dr. Chu’s former doctoral and post-doctoral research trainees are tenured or tenure stream academic faculty, with the remainder in pharmaceutical industry and research track positions. Dr. Kang states: “her mentorship and open door policy extends to work-life balance… I remember students in her lab recounting stories of her kids from personal interactions at lab or at holiday parties, as a testament to how parenthood is celebrated and normalized for her and her lab.”