Keith C. Cheng

Keith Cheng, Principal Investigator


Keith Cheng is the Principal Investigator of the Cheng Lab. After earning his B.A. in Biochemical Sciences at Harvard University, he earned his M.D. at NYU. He began his residency in Anatomic Pathology at Brigham & Women's Hospital, finishing his residency at University of Washington before earning a Ph.D. in Genetic Recombination. After finishing his postdoctoral training in Mechanisms of Mutation at the University of Washington, he began his current role as Principal Investigator of the Cheng lab at Penn State Milton S. Hershey College of Medicine.

Beginning in 2007, he founded the
zebrafish atlas of microanatomy, using low-throughput methods to establish a foundation of digital 2D imaging that can be applied across genetics and clinical medicine. The resolution of the 3D data generated provides a potential scope of analysis that is unprecedented - from the cellular to the whole-organism level - for a vertebrate animal through its life span. Automated feature extraction and measurement will require a level of computational power that is now within reach and is quickly becoming more economical. By applying the benefits of high performance computing to the analysis of microCT data within phenome projects and integrating that with human and model system data, the team will be able to answer questions about biological systems and aspects of human disease that have been beyond our reach. He hopes to use these technological advances to develop a novel means of probing the function of all human genes, adding a third dimension to computationally-derived, quantitative analysis of human tissue at cell resolution, and contributing a more detailed, more integrated, and yet more cost-effective whole-organism approach to environmental management.

Khai C. Ang

Khai C. Ang, Assistant Professor

Zebrafish Core Director
Chenglab: 2009 - Present

Khai Chung Ang joined the lab in 2009 as a postdoc and appointed to the position Research Associate in 2014 . After earning his B.Sc. (Bio) in 2003, he began graduate school researching the "Molecular Phylogenetics of the Orang Asli in Malaysia," which is the first phylogenetics study among the Malaysian native populations. In 2009, he earned his Ph.D. in Genetics from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Malaysia. Combining anthropology and genetics, KC researches human migration, adaptation, and pigmentation for the East Asian skin color project (EASCoP), which began in 2005.

KC's graduate work with the aboriginal people of Malaysia (the Orang Asli) put him in a unique position to collaborate with Dr. Cheng on the EASCoP: during his graduate studies, he spent 6 years building trust and developing mutual respect with the Orang Asli. This relationship allowed him to collect human DNA and phenotypic data from them and bring it to the States for analysis. Using this data, the EASCoP team are searching for the derived alleles that are fixed in East Asians, which we believe will give us insight into the melanoma discrepancy between Europeans and East Asians, explained in more detail on the EASCoP page. This project has taken him and his team across the globe to study another native population in the Commonwealth of Dominica: the Kalinago. The team is currently waiting for approval from the Dominican government to collect data from the Kalinago population. Both of these populations share a similar genetic ancestry due to recent migration out of East Asia. Studying two populations from different geographical locations (Malaysia and Dominica) will allow the team to mutually validate the candidate alleles as ancient and widespread primary EAS mutations.
KC also serves as the Scientific Director of the Penn State Zebrafish Functional Genomics Core since July 2014.

Jean E. Copper

Jean Copper, Lab Manager

Cheng Lab Manager and Zebrafish Atlas Coordinator
Chenglab: 2006 - Present

Jean Copper joined the lab in 2006 as a research technologist taking on the role of lab manager for the Cheng Lab. With a lifetime spent in Academic Research she brings a wealth of experience including a keen interest in histology. Jean received her BA in Biology in 1990 from Hollins University after which she spent several years working at the University of Virginia in the Department of Medicine. Following a move to Pennsylvania, Jean earned an MS in Biology from Shippensburg University in 1996. Upon the completion of her degree, Jean came to the Hershey Medical Center where she worked in both the Department of Neuroscience and the Department of Pharmacology before joining the Cheng Lab and the Jake Gittlen Laboratories for Cancer Research.

In addition to her role as lab manager Jean is the Zebrafish Atlas Coordinator. In this role she has contributed to the expansion of the Zebrafish online Atlas as well as the development and refinement of histologic techniques used for Zebrafish. Her work in the lab continues to grow as the website has changed to Bio-Atlas to include other model organisms as well as human samples. Outside of the lab Jean is a wife, mother, Girl Scout volunteer and an avid equestrian competing in the sport of Eventing.

Maksim A. Yakovlev

Maksim Yakovlev, PhD Candidate

Chenglab: 2015 - Present

Max joined the Cheng lab as a Ph.D candidate in 2016, with an interest in imaging for research and clinical applications, machine learning, image registration, and automated morphometric phenotyping.

Prior to joining the BMS program in 2015, he pursued connectomics focused research using C. elegans as a model organism for studying sex-based divergence in neural circuit formation in the lab of Scott Emmons in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Department of Genetics. He graduated from Stony Brook University in 2014 with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

In the Cheng lab, Max is responsible for data acquisition and imaging optimization using the in-house micro-CT system. He is currently involved in scanning zebrafish and daphnia samples prepared under varying protocols for increasing signal strength, acquisition efficiency, and resolution. Additionally, Max is involved in feature-based 3D image analysis of scanned biological samples: work on cellular-to-tissue level quantification of anatomic features can increase analysis efficiency in both atlasing efforts and large genetic/pharmacological screens while decreasing bias and error inherent in qualitative feature detection.

Yifu Ding

Yifu Ding, MD/PhD Candidate

The Builder
Chenglab: 2014 - Feb 2019

Yifu is a MD/PhD Candidate whose interests lie at the interface of data science, medicine, and engineering. In a previous life, he worked on novel cone-beam CT for extremity scanning in humans. In this lab, Yifu helped coordinate efforts between biologists and physicists to achieve histology-like imaging of zebrafish in 3D. Additionally, he also led efforts on building an in-house micro-CT machine to test new equipment.

Peggy Hubley

Peggy Hubley, Research Technologist

Zebrafish Functional Genomics Core Manager
Wholesale Crafter/Artist
Chenglab: 1996 - Present

Peggy worked at a veterinary clinic while attending Harrisburg Area Community College where she received an AA in Life Sciences. Her interest in animal behavior led her to Millersville State College where she obtained a BA in Psychology. Peggy then worked for a major wholesale pet supply company where she headed the Marine and Reptile Departments. As a Research Technologist she is the Fish Facility Manager for the Cheng lab.

Peggy also serves as the Zebrafish Functional Genomics Core Facility Manager. She oversees daily operations, maintains appropriate supplies, schedules and/or performs equipment repairs and documentation for equipment/facility, performs the training of personnel, oversees and maintains the schedules of several animal handlers, and advises facility users.

Mee Siing Ngu

Mee Siing Ngu, Postdoctoral Researcher

Daphnia Atlas Creator
Chenglab: 2017 - Present

Mee Siing Ngu joined Penn State College of Medicine in 2017 as a postdoctoral scholar. After earning her B.Sc. in Biology, she continued to pursue her M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Genetics, working on genetic diversity of wild rice (Oryza rufipogon) in Malaysia and improving yield of rice cultivar (O. sativa) in Malaysia with marker-assisted selection.

She hopes to delineate the problem of environmental toxicity assessment through the study of morphological and cellular change in aquatic microorganisms using soft tissue micro-computed tomography (microCT) imaging that amounts to 3D histology. Her current project focuses on creating a histological and 3D reference atlas for water flea (Daphnia magna) which has been used in toxicological studies. These developmental reference atlases will serve as the foundation for environmental monitoring and toxicity testing of long-term exposure to different environmental pollutants, even at low concentration.

Spencer R. Katz

Spencer R. Katz, MD-PhD Candidate

Hype Man
Chenglab: 2015 - Present

Spencer joined the Cheng Lab in Spring 2016 with interests in genetic engineering, synthetic biology, imaging, and art/design.

As an undergrad at Yale University, he led a team of student researchers for the 2012 International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition. Spencer continued his research for the next two years, working primarily on engineering new biological systems in E. coli with synthetic amino acids. He graduated from Yale with a B.S. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology in 2013.

In 2014, Spencer joined the Penn State College of Medicine Medical Scientist Training Program in Hershey, PA. In the Cheng Lab, he has bridged the zebrafish genetics and microCT projects for the lab, working with transgenic zebrafish to expand the microCT toolbox and open new applications for the imaging technique in human disease modeling and digital pathology. Outside of lab, Spencer is an accomplished artist and an award-winning ballroom dancer, and he has taken leadership positions in both medical school and graduate school.

Victor Canfield

Victor Canfield, Research Technologist

Chenglab: 2015 - Present

Victor rejoined the Cheng lab in 2015 to work on projects related to human population biology and skin color genetics. He received his BA in Biology from Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, in 1977, and his PhD in Physiology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985. Previous research explored the basis of ouabain resistance in rodent Na,K-ATPases and the transmembrane topology of membrane transport proteins. Current research interests also include gene regulation in differentiation and development, personalized medicine, and the genetics of addiction.

Katie A.M. Early

Katie Early, Research Technician

Zebrafish Core Liaison
Cheng Lab: 2017 - Present

Katie graduated from Penn State Harrisburg in 2018 with a degree in Developmental Biology and Genetics. From 2014 to 2016, she attended California University of Pennsylvania where she became a Lab Technician for the Chemistry Department. During the summers, she worked as a camp counselor at a program for low-income families and volunteered additional time and materials to host weekly STEM sessions for children ages four to 13 years old. During her time at PSU Hbg, she assisted teaching several upper-level courses about human genetics, genetic analysis, and evolution. She gained further teaching experience by giving several guest lectures on various topics involving genetics and evolution.
In the lab, Katie conducts research involving the navigation of genome databases, bioinformatics, and applied genomic engineering of zebrafish, in hopes to determine the genetic component(s) responsible for East Asian skin pigmentation. She has a strong interest and passion for genetic research and anticipates, one day, establishing a career and earning her doctorate in the field.

Alex Yu-Shun Lin

Alex Yu-Shun Lin, Postdoctoral Scholar

Zebrafish Core Technical Director
Cheng Lab: 2010 - Present

Alex Yu-Shun Lin joined the Cheng lab in 2010 with interests in DNA polymerases and genomic instability and earned his Ph.D. degree. He was appointed the Zebrafish Core Technical Director in 2019. Prior to joining the lab, he earned his B.A./M.S. degress from Johns Hopkins University and pursued research in the molecular mechanisms of glioma and glioblastoma tumorigenesis at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Alex continues to explore the effects of the systematic cytological and molecular effects of DNA polymerase α deficiency using zebrafish while coordinating collaborative projects in the Zebrafish Core. Alex also developed the sample preparation protocol for soft tissue micro-tomography (micro-CT) and aims to establish a foundation for toxicological studies using micro-CT to monitor morphological changes in zebrafish.

Daniel J. Vanselow

Dan Vanselow, Programmer / Analyst

Web Developer, Image Informaticist, and Visualization Specialist
I made this website
Cheng Lab: 2016 - Present

Damian B. van Rossum

Damian B. van Rossum, Assistant Professor

Research and Grant Facilitator
Rum Liaison
Cheng Lab: 2017 - Present

Damian has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology at Penn State University, College of Medicine since 2017. As Research Associate in the Department of Biology at Penn State University from 2006 to 2017, he conducted research on refining evolutionary inference in datasets with extreme divergence, deciphering the functional and structural determinants of ion channels, and elucidating non-canonical functions within signaling proteins. Damian studied as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine from 2003 to 2006. He received his Ph.D in Biochemistry in 2003 from the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Medicine. He received his B.S. in Biology in 1997 from Towson University, Maryland.

Damian is a performance-driven biomedical scientist with demonstrated success executing research initiatives focused on uncovering mechanistic insight into models of human health and disease. He has expertise in primary amino acid sequence analysis, protein biochemistry, calcium imaging and signal transduction pathways with an emphasis on resolving the regulation of protein function. Presently, Damian is a single point of contact for high-level assistance in grant writing, budgeting, scientific design, training, technical writing, and project management throughout the study duration. His professional objective is to leverage his broad scientific experience, analytical abilities, communication skills, and leadership talents to actualize the goals of faculty, staff, students, and trainees across the full spectrum of their research related needs.