Oral history interview with Kun Ping Lu

  • 2005-Aug-03 – 2005-Aug-05

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.

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