Hua Lu: His path to basic biomedical research----The 1978 alumnus of Jiangxi Medical College


1. A brief biography

Prof. Hua Lu, an internationally renowned biochemist, received his Bachelor of Medicine from Jiangxi Medical College in 1983 and Master of Science degree from Peking Union Medical College/Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in 1986, respectively. After completing his Ph.D. training in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Program at Rutgers University/Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, New Jersey, USA in 1993, he pursued his postdoctoral study in the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, New Jersey, from 1993 to 1997. Upon completing his postdoctoral study, Dr. Lu was recruited as an Assistant Professor on the Tenure-track by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Oregon Health Science University in Portland, Oregon, USA, and promoted the tenured Associate Professor at the same institute in 2003. He was then recruited as a tenured Full Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Daniel and Lori Efryomson Endowed Chair Professor of Oncology at the Simon Cancer Center by Indiana University School of Medicine, Indiana, USA in 2007. In 2012, Dr. Lu was appointed as a Tenured Full Professor and Chair in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Tulane University School of Medicine and the Reynolds and Ryan Families Chairs Professor of Transition Cancer at Tulane Cancer Center. He is also a voting member of the Executive Committee at the Tulane Medical School.

2. Early journey to biomedical research

For everyone, the journey to a college was an uneasy one with the admission rate of only 4-6% in China in the 80s of last century; The same was true to Dr. Lu. Admission to Jiangxi Medical College in 1978 marked the beginning of his long and tough journey to biomedical research. During the five-year period of his medical study, as a highly motivated student, he had fully dedicated himself to embrace the golden opportunity of studying at a medical school after the 10 ruthless college-free years of culture revolution in China. He grasped any possible moments and opportunity to read more books, including peoms, literature, history, religion, arts, and scientific journals in addition to textbooks, and to absorb more knowledge through broad readings. Owing to his rigorosusly hard work, he successfully earned four consecutive titles of the Outstanding Student in all-round categories (Humanity/Ethics, Scholarly, and Physical Education) from 1979 to 1982 prior to clinical rotation. He was the top #1 student with the highest GPA in the class of 68 medical students. He was also well reputed during his clinical rotation, as every doctor, who mentored him, highly praised him and his clinical performance in the fifth year of his medical school. However, inspired by reading scientific journals in school and public libraries and puzzled by numerous unaddressed medical questions, he decided to pursue a research career instead of being a clinical physician. After passing the national entrance examination for a graduate school, he was successfully admitted to Peking Union Medical College/Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences to pursue his graduate study in the field of biochemical pharmacology. As the result from his Master study, he published three research articles and one book chapter in the book of “Free Radical Biology” as the first author and also co-received an invention award with his Master mentor, Dr. Gengtao Liu, issued by the Chinese National Ministry of Health in 1986. This rudimentary achievement not only fed him with preliminary, but fruitful, taste in research, but also firmed his mind up for pursuing scientific research as his career.

In 1987, he went abroad first as a visiting scholar in the USA and was then admitted to the PhD program at Rutgers University-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey in 1988. During his PhD study under the mentorship of Dr. Danny Reinberg, who is a world leading scientist in the epigenetic field, he made two crucial discoveries. First, he demonstrated the role of phosphorylation of the largest subunit of RNA polymerase II in transcriptional initiation. Then he discovered TFIIH as a novel kinase for this subunit phosphorylation that triggers transcriptional initiation and drives elongation. This finding was considered as a landmark in the transcriptional field that time, highly remarked by a Nature prospective in 1992, and often cited in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology textbooks. His PhD studies led to 6 publications in Nature, Cell, PNAS and JBC, two of which (PNAS and Nature) were with him as the first author. For his outstanding contribution to biochemical and molecular biology, he was honored with a predoctoral award by Schering-Plough Pharmaceutical company. After completing his PhD study, he started his postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Dr. Arnold J Levine at Princeton University, who is one of the p53 co-discoverers and pioneers in the p53 research field. Following his postdoctoral work, his later research career has been dedicated to cancer research involving tumor suppressors and oncogenic proteins, such as p53 and c-Myc, as further described below.

3. Fruitful Independent research career


One of the great spiritual properties of our human beings is that while exploring the mystery of Nature with creativity and perseverance, one also enjoys this process with great passion and love. This is invaluable human spirit to all generations of scientists.

With his strong passion and love for scientific research and great concerns about human health, by working with his own team, Dr. Lu has been studying the most important tumor suppressor gene p53 and the important oncogene c-Myc since he became an independent scientist. Specifically, Dr. Lu has been trying to understand how p53 becomes activated in response to various cellular stresses to execute its anti-cancer functions by employing biochemical, molecular and cellular biology, and genetic approaches. Over the past decades, he and his team have discovered several important molecular players in regulating the functions of p53 and c-Myc. Among many important contributions he has made is his unveiling the ribosomal proteins-MDM2-p53 pathway in response to ribosomal stress (also called nucleolar stress) as one critical signaling pathway to activate p53. Also, his lab has tried hard to translate what they have learnt from their own research into a drug discovery as they identified a group of small molecules as potential anti-cancer agents. Dr. Lu hopes to eventually develop one of the leading candidate molecules into a clinically useful anti-cancer drug via p53-dependent and independent mechanisms. He has received a wealth of research funds to support his active basic and translational research programs, which are translated to a highly productive lab. Indeed, over the past quarter of century, Dr. Lu has published more than 160 high-quality research and review articles on top tier peer-reviewed scientific journals, such as Nature, Science, Cell, Molecular Cell, Cancer Cell, Neuron, EMBO J, eLIFE, Nature Communications, EMBO Mol Med, EMBO Report, PNAS, MCB, JBC, Cancer Research and so on. In addition, Dr. Lu has received several awards and honors, including the privileged Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Research Award, the New Jersey Oncology Excellence Award, and the Oregon Health and Science University Excellence in Teaching Award. Dr. Lu was elected as the 2018 AAAS Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and as the honorary member of the Sigma Xi Society in 2018.

His scientific journey through every solid footstep, though sometime quite grueling and uncertain, sets a marvelous example of that success only visits the one who has been well prepared, fully dedicated, remarkably perseverant, and extraordinarily diligent.

4. Instrumental to young generations of medical students

Dr. Lu is not only a scientist, but also an educator. He has been conveying his great concerns on young generations of medical and graduate students at his mother school in addition to fulfilling his own administrational, educational, and service duties at Tulane. As the 1978 alumnus of Jiangxi Medical College, Dr. Lu has paid much attention to the medical education and research programs at this school after his first visit to the school in 1997. Over the past two decades, Dr. Lu has spent much of his own spare and vacation time to visit Jiangxi Medical College whenever he traveled in China. Recently, he has also paid multiple visits to the Queen Mary school of Nanchang University, a newly established joint medical school between UK and China. During each of his visits, he offered either a seminar on his own research or a lecture about how to learnEnglish and how to write an academic essay in English and so on. Also, he has participated in discussion with a small group of selected students. In each of his talks or seminars, he encouraged undergraduate and graduate students to bravely ask him questions by quoting an Einstein’s saying, “There is not a bad question, and there is not a good answer”. Moreover, he inspired students to pursue what they are interested in as their career goals and to keep on going once a decision is made regardless of whether it is basic research or clinical practice. He often told students, “The obstacle to discovery is the illusion of current knowledge.” By saying so, Dr. Lu tried to incite students to be more creative and to challenge the existing dogma in biomedical fields with their own thoughtful and critical minds. Many of the students who listened to his talks were highly impressed by his influential speeches and motivated by his encouragement.

Time is the determinant of one's career. But Time is in your hands” is also what he ever told students. During his lecture or seminar, he often initiated a dialogue with students, provoked their curiosity about unsolved medical issues or challenges, and stimulated their thinking about their own interests and career plans, for which all the students are very grateful.


5. Profound attachment to mother school

The heart of a well-achieved scholar is naturally attached to his or her former schools where he or she received early education and trainings. This is also particularly true to Dr. Lu, as he has tried to create and provide any possible opportunity for the students at Nanchang University Jiangxi Medical Collegel and Queen Mary School to receive better trainings in research and/or clinical rotation. Over the past ten years, he has mentored seven visiting scholars from the college and trained them into independent scientists back to the college. Also, via his effort with support of the Dean Dr. Lee Hamm at Tulane School of Medicine, Dr. Lu helped Queen Mary school establish a tuition-free medical student exchange program with Tulane. Through this program, Queen Mary School has sent seven senior medical students to Tulane for one month in early 2017. During this period, these students were offered with weekly lectures and seminars as well as intensively exposed to clinical practices in five different clinical departments at Tulane School of Medicine. Dr. Lee Hamm also offered a lecture on kidney disease to them along with a number of other Tulane basic research and clinical professors who offered free lectures to them. Through this invaluable experience at Tulane, these students have learnt quite lots about professional skills, English speaking, advanced knowledge, and clinical experience as well as the difference between Chinese and American medical educational and clinical health systems.

One of the seven students who visited Tulane was Ms. Yuqing (Eugenia) Wang, who was a student of the class 2014 at Queen Mary School and is now a graduate student at Peking University. As the leader of the group, she felt so grateful for what Dr. Lu and his wife Dr. Shelya Zeng, who is also a 1978 alumna of JMC, has done for them during their staying in New Orleans. “He and his wife drove the airport to pick us up, hosted a Chinese New Year party for us at their home, and also brought us to other local Chinese New Year parties on the Tulane campus. It was so warm to us as we left home during the Chinese New Year when we were supposed to stay home with our families,” said she. "Fruits are often ripe healthily, though quietly, from fertile soils laid by a good gardener.” By this quotation, she expressed her heartfelt gratitude for what Dr. Lu has taught her and her peer fellows during their one-month clinical rotation at Tulane. She also said, “the first time I met Professor Lu was during our interview via video for this exchange program to Tulane. He impressed me as a rigorous research scholar, a humble leader, a cool mentor, and an outstanding alumnus of our medical school. I will never forget our memorable one month at Tulane and our unique trip to the United States. Dr. Lu showed his warmness and unselfish care about as well as his valuable guidance to all of us. That was an unforgettable lifetime experience to all of us. It was him who instructed us to be an unselfish person, a good leader, a good student, and a good doctor in the future. I still remember his words and helpful tips. Apparently, Dr. Lu’s attachment to his motherland and mother school is extraordinarily deep and profound, which is perfectly exemplified in how we have been well treated by him during our short trip to Tulane.”

To show her respect and appreciation to Dr. Lu, Ms. Yuqing Wang wrote a lyric poem in a Song style as follows:

A Lyric to the Tune of Qin Yuan Chun (Spring in a Pleasure Garden)

The foreign land bathes in twilight,

And on the sea billows the tide.

The tender waves are in red dyed.

A long bridge holds the evening sunglow,

And sheds its shadow with other shadow.

The setting sun is still so bright,

Its light spreads on the land so wide.

Its admirable sheen is fair,

And gives off warm fragrance everywhere;

The crocodiles seem slightly unclear.

Just in this moment,

We surmise the winter be warmed by spring sheen

And we could float on green.

The surging waves break rocks by the seashore,

Where our gallant hero has fought his war.

He flies to the sky to catch th’ frozen cloud

E’en when the wind blows loud.

He does against the sun lie,

And looks up into the sky.

He blends his dream and the reality into one,

And plays zither and flute alone.

He’s read a ton of books and knows the coming and the gone.

Walking to us,

He has spent his youth in a haste,

But his great service makes the world amazed.


6.Wishes to the future

A Doctor’s Benevolence Shines the World

By Lu Hua

For centuries, we’ve followed our medical oath,

Like peach blossoms and plum blooms perfuming the yard.

Our students under the sun make the world shine and fine,

We’re strived to cure ailments with a kind heart.