Dr. Chen is a nephrologist who specializes in the treatment of Nephrotic Syndrome (NS) and genetic kidney disease. She received her MDs from Shanghai Medical University, China and Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, and PhD in Cell & Developmental Biology from Vanderbilt University. She completed her Internal Medicine residency at St. Louis University and her Nephrology Fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. She is currently an Associate Professor of Medicine and Cell Biology & Physiology at WashU. In addition to running her lab, she is the Director of the Nephrotic Syndrome Clinic.
Dr. Chen’s research has been focused on organelle dyshomeostasis and kidney disease. Her research spans from basic biology to translational disease models to clinical studies in various kidney diseases triggered by endoplasmic reticulum (ER) dysfunction, including primary NS, autosomal dominant tubulointerstitial kidney disease (ADTKD) and acute kidney injury.
Dr. Chen’s lab has pioneered discovery of urinary ER stress biomarkers, including MANF, CRELD2 and BiP (Patent 10156564, 2018). Her studies clearly show that urinary excretion of these ER stress biomarkers is well in advance of histological manifestation of kidney injury and clinical onset of kidney disease, thus defining an asymptomatic therapeutic window for early intervention. Dr. Chen’s lab has also demonstrated the role of podocyte ER stress in NS in vivo, and has discovered a new class of drugs, podocyte ER calcium stabilizers in the treatment of NS. Her study shows that podocyte ER calcium release channel, type 2 ryanodine receptor (RyR2) becomes leaky under ER stress. Through a chemical screen, her lab identified a chemical compound (K201) that can correct the maladaptive remodeling of RyR2, as well as inhibit podocyte injury and proteinuria in vivo. Her group is currently also leading the investigation of function of the novel ER protein MANF in the treatment of kidney disease (Patent 11129871, 2021).