They met in medical school in China. Now they’re husband and wife, parents of two kids, and close scientific collaborators. I met up with Drs. Kun Ping Lu and Xiao Zhen Zhou, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in the lab they share in the Center for Life Science.
How do you divide labor in your lab?
“She actually takes care of most of the lab stuff. I’m just talking or writing the grant,” Lu said. “I think she actually knows more about the technical …”
“Not only technical, come on!” Zhou interjected.
Lu revised his description: He comes up with big ideas. Zhou tells him if they’re practical — often they’re not — and translates them into experiments.
Their most provocative idea
There’s an inverse association between cancer and Alzheimer’s: People who get one disease are less likely to get the other. Zhou and Lu discovered, and spent a decade studying, an enzyme called Pin1 that they think regulates both disorders. Pin1 keeps the balance between tumor suppressors and cancer-promoting genes, Zhou said — “the balance of the ying-yang.” If the enzyme gets over-expressed, the balance is off, and that causes cancer. And too little Pin1 leads to Alzheimer’s, they believe. Lu said people still doubt them, saying “you are simply baloney!” — but they’re determined to prove their detractors wrong by developing therapies in humans.
What about the concussion pill for football players?
It would be an injected drug, not a pill, Lu said. But it’s true: Lu and Zhou have developed an antibody that reverses concussion-related brain damage in mice. To test it, they dropped a weight on one side of a mouse’s head. After that, the mice failed a mouse version of a “drunk driving test,” showed risk-taking behavior, and peed all over their living quarters — symptoms similar to those in humans with traumatic brain injury. Brain function was restored, and those behaviors improved, after mice received the antibody. They now aim to “humanize” the mouse antibody and test it in people. Read more in their paper in the journal Nature.
Do you let your kids play football?
They’re both girls. They don’t play football. But the youngest has started doing gymnastics. “Every time she tumbles,” Lu said, “my heart jumps.”