P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


Du Cheng, 2016

MD/PhD, Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Memorial Sloan Kettering Tri-Institutional Program

Du Cheng is an immigrant from China

Fellowship awarded to support work towards an MD/PhD in Neuroscience and Neuroscience at Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Memorial Sloan Kettering Tri-Institutional Program

Born and raised in Zhengzhou, China, Du Cheng found himself constantly frustrated by the education system's emphasis on memorization. Du wanted to debate, research, invent, and create. When he moved to the US halfway through his college career to attend Humboldt State University, he felt he could finally give back to the world of knowledge he had spent so long simply regurgitating. Soon enough, Du began microbiology and stem cell research, which led to 11 publications in peer-reviewed journals, four of which he was the first-author on, as an undergraduate.

College was also where Du developed his first invention. Looking around a classroom lab, Du saw his fellow students attempting to take photos through their microscopes without much success due to optical alignment issues. Du took a Styrofoam prototype of a phone to microscope adapter to his professor and university president who introduced him to the patenting process. Soon enough, Du had a company and was manufacturing iDu Optics® microscope adapters for iPhone.

As a medical student and PhD candidate at the Weill Cornell/Rockefeller U/Sloan Kettering Tri-Institutional MD-PhD program, Du designed an innovation curriculum and taught his own courses on the topic. He instructed over 100 physicians and medical students in 3D printing.

Du performed his PhD research in Rockefeller University's Dr. Cori Bargmann's lab and successfully defended his thesis in the spring of 2021. Du's research is focused on the functional connection between neural circuits and behavioral traits using genetics, advanced imaging, and computational analyses. For example, when someone has a bad experience they are likely to avoid aspects of that experience in the future-Du is interested in the neural processes behind this to better understand, and potentially control, our motivations consciously, or, when needed, pharmacologically.

Du's other on-going inventions include a cell phone retinal imaging device and a 3D-printed model for neurosurgery planning, both of which are currently in the clinical studies phase. Du hopes to use technology to facilitate advancements in research and healthcare access as a physician-scientist and to improve quality of life for everyone.

  • PhD Neuroscience | Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Memorial Sloan Kettering Tri-Institutional Program 2021
  • BS Cellular/Molecular Biology, Chemistry | Humboldt State University 2011
  • MD Neuroscience | Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Memorial Sloan Kettering Tri-Institutional Program
  • California Institute for Regenerative Medicine Fellow
  • HHMI Summer Research Scholarship
  • Weill Cornell CTSC Community Engagement Grant
  • Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholars Award
  • American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship
  • Humboldt State University Outstanding Student of the Year
  • 1st Place 27th Annual California State University Research Competition
Select Publications
  • 2. D. Cheng, K. Vigil, P. Schanes, R. Brown, and J. Zhong. Prevalence and Burden of Two Rickettsial Phylotypes in Ixodes pacificus from California by Real-time PCR, Ticks and tick-borne diseases, 2013 Jun;4(4):280-7.
  • 3. D. Cheng, Lane RS, and Zhong J. Field and Laboratory Studies on the Transmission of the Spotted Fever Group Rickettsia sp. Phylotype G021 by the Western Black-Legged Tick (Ixodes pacificus). Proc Pap Annu Conf Calif Mosq Control Assoc. 2012. 80:123-127.
  • 4. D. Cheng, R. Lane, J. Zhong, Host-Bloodmeal Dependent Growth Ensures Transovarial Transmission and Transstadial Passage of Rickettsia sp. Phylotype G021 in the Western Black-Legged Tick (Ixodes pacificus), Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases, 2013 Sep;4(5):421-6.
  • 5. W.H. Lim, B. Liu, D. Cheng, D.J. Hunter, Z. Zhong, D.M. Ramos, B.O. Williams, P.T. Sharpe, C. Bardet, S.J. Mah, and J.A. Helms. Wnt signaling regulates pulp volume and dentin thickness, J Bone Miner Res, 2013 Aug 31.
  • 6. W.H. Lim, B. Liu, D. Cheng, B.O. Williams, S.J. Mah, and J.A. Helms. Wnt signaling regulates homeostasis of the periodontal ligament. J Periodontal Res. 2014 Jan 11.
  • 7. G. Dhamdhere, M. Fang, J. Jiang, R. Olveda, D. Cheng, B. Liu, K. Lee, K. Harnish, R. Nusse, J. Carlson, W. Weis, and J.A. Helms, Drugging a stem cell compartment using Wnt3a protein as a therapeutic, PLOS One, 2014 Jan 6;9(1):e83650.
  • 8. W.H. Lim, B. Liu, D.J. Hunter, D. Cheng, S.J. Mah, J.A. Helms. Downregulation of Wnt causes root resorption.Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop. 2014 Sep;146(3):337-45.
  • 9. A.H. Kurlovs, J. Li, D. Cheng, and J. Zhong, Ixodes pacificus Ticks Maintain Embryogenesis and Egg Hatching after Antibiotic Treatment of Rickettsia Endosymbiont., PLOS One, 2014 Aug 8;9(8):e104815.
  • 10. B. Liu, S. Chen, D. Cheng, W. Jing, and J.A. Helms, Primary cilia integrate Hedgehog and Wnt signaling during tooth development, J Dent Res, 2014 May;93(5):475-82.
  • 11. Jing W, Smith AA, Liu B, Li J, Hunter DJ, Dhamdhere G, Salmon B, Jiang J, Cheng D, Johnson CA, Chen S, Lee K, Singh G, Helms JA. Reengineering autologous bone grafts with the stem cell activator WNT3A. Biomaterials. 2015 Apr;47:29-40.
  • 1. D. Cheng*, P. Leucht*, J. Jiang*, B. Liu*, G. Dhamdhere, M. Fang, S. Monica,J. Urena, W. Cole, L. Smith, A. Castillo, M.T. Longaker, and J.A. Helms. Wnt3a re-establishes osteogenic capacity to bone grafts from aged animals, The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, 17;95(14):1278-88. *contributed equally to this work.
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