Meet Chris Cho: M.D.-Ph.D. and BCMB Student, Plus Ballet Dancer Extraordinaire

One of my favorite things about Johns Hopkins is that I get to count some pretty extraordinary people as my friends and fellow classmates. One of these folks is Chris Cho, an M.D.-Ph.D. student who is also a first-year graduate student in the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB) Graduate Program. Chris graduated from Yale University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

chris cho dancing in the labHe spent a couple of years doing protein biochemistry research before joining the Johns Hopkins M.D.-Ph.D. program. After his first year of medical school, he completed a summer rotation in Jeremy Nathans’ lab—also my thesis lab—and liked it so much he decided to join the group.

I sat down with Chris to get his perspective on being a new graduate student. The starting point for our conversation was, of course, research. One of our lab’s major interests is to figure out the functions of a group of receptors, called Frizzleds. Through genetic studies using knockout mice, our lab has shown that Frizzled members are involved in processes such as neuronal axon path-finding, hair patterning, and the development of brain and retinal vasculature.

Can you describe your project in a few sentences?
It’s known that a family of proteins called 'wnts' can bind to Frizzled receptors, leading to the activation of downstream target genes in the cell. My project focuses on identifying novel modulators of Wnt/Frizzled signaling that could play important roles in regulating the blood-brain barrier or blood-retinal barrier.

What do you like most about being a graduate student?
Being in graduate school is a very personal adventure, one that allows you to be eccentric and creative, but also makes you think tirelessly about the problems you’re working on.

What do you find most challenging about being a first-year grad student?
Trying not to get too carried away with new—potentially crazy?—ideas and experiments for my projects. Also, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle with all the free food!

Can you describe your most embarrassing moment in lab?
I think it was during the first week of my summer rotation, when I tried to stack my own pipette tips and managed to spill the entire tray of 1000-plus tips all over the floor. I wouldn’t say it was the best first impression.

Though lab can often take up a major portion of students’ time, Chris still manages to find time to participate in other activities. Outside of the lab and classroom, Chris is involved in the Johns Hopkins Student Sight Savers Program, a volunteer group in which trained medical students provide free vision screenings to the underserved community.

In addition to training to become a fabulous physician/scientist, Chris is also a ballet dancer who has danced with student ballet companies at both Yale and Johns Hopkins. Currently, he is preparing to perform the lead male role of Leo Delibes’ Coppelia in the university ballet’s spring show.