Large image

Share a special moment from Charles's life.

Write a story
April 24
It’s incredibly difficult for me to express how I feel at this moment. You’ve not only been an exceptional scientist but also a wonderful friend ever since I was sent to your lab by the late Dr. George Yang for training in 2018. Following that, we met in regular basis, and you have given us valuable guidance to establish Dr. Yang’s lab here in Alabama. The loss of Dr. Yang in 2022 was a tough loss for both of us. The year 2022 has been a very tough year and I often lose hope of getting our work published. But you were there with me, encouraged me, helped me, and finally we get that work published in 2023. It is hard to get to know you are no longer with us in such a young age. We have shared many late-night calls and many moments of laughter. We have talked many topics, from science, to career paths, to lifestyle, to the challenges of securing funding nowadays, et al. It has been a great 5 years working remotely with you and you have been a truly valuable friend. If you met Dr. Yang in heaven, say hi for me. Miss both of you dearly.

Charles K.F. Chan Personal Statement (~2001 for Graduate School)

March 20
If I could be anything in the world, I want to be a child again. I want to romp in the fields. I want to spend my time looking under rocks for bugs, digging for grubs or searching for tadpoles. I want to build spaceships out of Lego's, fly them to distant planets, fight epic battles with alien robots and die nobly, in a blinding supernova, all before suppertime. I want to do things that make people stare and not have to care. I want to be an expert on insects, and dinosaurs. Know all their names, and vital statistics. And afterwards, create creatures of my own design that are part insects-part dinosaurs. I want to find things out by myself and believe what I want to believe, not what people tell me to.

I wish to be blessed like some children are, like I was. Blessed with a million futures and dreams that can come true. Blessed with time for tomorrow. Blessed with an unconditional love for one another that is felt but never understood. Blessed with a life that is simple, and uncomplicated.

I clung to my childhood, consciously and subconsciously. I went to Toys R'us often. But though I struggled, I could not hold on. I grew. People began to depend on me. I learned to be responsible, and knowledge and experience took their toll. Nevertheless, I still believe in second chances, in forgive and forget. I try to look for the good in people. And I haven't given up on a better tomorrow.

If I cannot be a child, then let me be a scientist. I've never out grown my love of nature and tirelessly pursued it throughout my life, both in and out of academia. My parents and teachers taught me the basics- how to observe, count, and analyze. Then I gradually leamed to apply these fundamentals to understand the physical world around me. In high school I gained the opportunity to intern in research institutions at local universities. I learned much about the practice of scientific research. I also discovered that the occupation is one of many virtues, and the one of my choice.

Scientists have boundless curiosity and an unrestrained imagination that may be child-like. They live for the future and see far ahead. Indeed, they are visionaries whose fantasies may eventually become our realities. Despite their importance, scientists are often underpaid. I did not understand till I have put in long hours at the bench myself, for the chief compensation of the scientist's work is not monetary but in the satisfaction that is gained from it. Nevertheless, I still feel they should be able to provide well for their families. The wealth of knowledge they do have they share willingly. They encourage competition and cooperation since there is never a shortage of mysteries to be explored. It is also this general benevolence, which helped me select scientific research over other occupations I have considered.

By the time I completed college all my doubts were resolved. I have acquired a detailed understanding of the molecular and mechanistic aspects of life. I am particularly grateful to Professor Ashraf Imam, of U.S.C., Professors Mark Bennett, Hsiao-Ping Moore and Yeon Kyun Shin,  of U.C.Berkeley, and Dr's Michelle Poirier, and Beatriz Quinones of Johns Hopkins and U.C. Berkeley respectively,  for giving me additional, and invaluable opportunities for research training and experience. With their help, I have gained a broad spectrum of skills and knowledge that encompass significant aspects of research in structural biology, biochemistry and cell biology. Specifically, I have learned how to characterize the physical interactions of a class of membrane proteins, the SNAREs, with biochemical techniques and to employ a novel spectroscopy method, known as EPR, to by-pass the limits of crystallization and solve the structure of a protein complex in its native, soluble form.  I spent three years under the tutelage of the Bennett team and as an undergrad, I am most proud of my contributions to projects that led to co-authorships in two successful publications from that lab, one of which details the first successful determination of the structure of the SNARE complex- the likely core machinery of vesicle fusion. Currently, I'm continuing work on the SNARE proteins by following their function in cell lines, and using genetic manipulation ,IF and radioactive techniques to determine, and quantitatively characterize their cellular roles. I am also continuing with work that I started for my honors thesis, which I hope will lead to a publication soon. 

At U.S.C Medical School, I also saw the practical side of science, and discovered how the immune system of mice can be manipulated to distinguish differences between normal and cancerous breast tissue by first tolerizing neonatal mice with normal tissue, followed by inoculation with cancerous tissue. The method leads to the generation of cancer specific antibodies which can be used in diagnosis and therapy. Through all this I have made great strides in my ability to interpret results correctly, and to design experiments that yield easily interpretable results. I learned to work as well in a team as on my own . I learned how to communicate scientifically, and read scientific publications critically. I now know the importance of proper controls and lab notes, and I'm becoming more skilled in the proper choreography of experiments, which is so necessary to the study of sensitive biological systems. I've become proficient in the business of running a lab, by doing my job as the lab tech and dealing with all the little details necessary for optimal lab function. I've learned a lot.  In graduate school, I will complete my training as a scientist and begin my own career of discovery.

I know what I want to find. Since ancient times there were tales of a sacred vessel, amulet, pill, or fountain, which can restore youth and grant eternal life. Though they cannot be disproved, no such fountain of youth exists today. Recently, hope has arisen from a different direction. Research into the mechanisms regulating cell growth and differentiation has brought the impossible into the range of possibility. The birth of Dolly, clonally propagated from a differentiated adult cell, refuted earlier beliefs that cell fate is irreversible. Research on stem cells has revealed how cell fate may be determined by external stimuli. The discovery that even terminally differentiated nerve cells are capable of new growth further underscores the flexibility of cell fates and their ability to be controlled and manipulated. The immediate progression of current research may soon lead to a scenario whereby diseased, or senescent tissue can be replaced with newly generated, artificial ones. Potentially, clonally propagated, genetically engineered livestock that has been tolerized against human tissue antigens can serve as seed beds from which universally histo-compatible organs are grown and harvested.

Gradual refinement of the replacement strategy will greatly improve lifespan, health, and lead to a rough realization of the goal in our lifetime. However, aging may be genetically preprogrammed and even new grafts will eventually age. A better solution may lie in the understanding of the mechanisms that control cell number, those that regulate the flux of cellular life and death. An excellent basis for such studies and the likely focus of my graduate education is the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans.

These tiny worms present numerous advantages as model organisms. They are easily maintained on bacteria lawns and can be stored in frozen glycerol stocks much like bacteria. The worms are hermaphroditic which simplifies maintenance of mutant lines. Since the genome has been completely sequenced, genetic analysis should be much easier to perform. The cell lineages of all 959 adult cells have also been determined which will limit the complexity of phenotypic analysis. The animals are excellent for the study of many problems pertaining to development and aging.

They have a short life cycle with tightly regulated cell growth and death mechanisms homologous to our own. Longevity mutants of worms have also been isolated, though most seem to rely on preservation of existing cells, not replacement of old ones with new. The worm may also be developed as a bare bone system for the study of non-inherent mechanisms, such as regeneration, that could be introduced through genetic manipulation.

Continuing innovation and new technologies, such as micro-array analysis, bioinformatics, and computer-guided automation are rapidly increasing the rate and scope of biological research. The day may near when we can design completely new cells with new genomes modeled on our own that will have the necessary characteristics to make us ageless. They will have very robust, redundant cell death and growth-regulation mechanisms, which will allow the optimal youthful state of cellular flux to be constantly maintained. Senescent, diseased cells can be cleared through apoptosis and replaced with the proper number of new ones. Totipotent progenitors of these cells can be introduced intravenously. They may rely on mechanisms adapted from lymphocytes to home in and migrate to their target tissue. There, they will target the native cells for removal, while simultaneously differentiating to replace them. Hence the body can be rejuvenated in a lasting way without invasive surgery. However, the surgical discard and replace approach may serve until the new technology has matured.

I've read A. Huxley. I recognize the ethical implications of my views. Historically, science developed with the best of intention has been used for evil purposes. Even plowshares can be bent into swords. Though evil minds will always stir, we cannot lie around prostrate with fear of the future and let them take our dreams away. Evil must be vigilantly guarded against.

With success, there is much that is possible. A longer life-span will allow us to build on a greater base of knowledge then we have ever had. We will have time to explore all the different roles and do all the different things that we have wished to, in real life. There will be time for us to explore multiple areas of science and perhaps even develop new ones. Time will let us realize our dreams. With time, we can afford to be patient, and we will share more willingly. With patience, we may submit to voluntary, reversible sterilization that will help us maintain a sustainable population. With effort, peace will last until we can take to the stars to escape the great danger of self-imposed human extinction that is so prevalent these days. With luck, we may watch our young ones play on green fields one day, completely care free, knowing they are safe. They will have much to learn, but they will have time to enjoy a rich and full childhood, and when they step into adulthood, it will not be far from what they were as children.

I do not know if I will succeed. I do not think it is an impossible dream though it may seem like one. Already there are many who are directly or indirectly moving towards the same goal as my own. I hope to join them and I hope to bring others to join us. We will try as long as we have time. And as long as we have time, we will hope.

Your legacy lives on

March 16
Dearest Chuck,

Your zest for life, passion for science, patience and guidance as a mentor, kindness and warm as a dear friend will be so missed. From the moment we first met in January 2016 when you kindly picked me up from the Caltrain to meet with Dr Longaker you showed me nothing but kindness. You were like my academic big brother…funny, cool, super smart and charming. We had such fun over the years and discovered some amazing things! Even in the depths of those overnight experiments you always made it fun…you made work fun and life fun. Without exception you brought a smile to my face every time we talked. Dear Chuck we had so many dreams and aspirations…and in your honour those aspirations will come to be. You live on in all those you mentored and all those who had the opportunity to bear witness to your genius! You will always be an inspiration to us all. Rest in peace my dear friend. Síocháin air/ Rest in Peace.

Valentine's Day

March 15
Dear Chuckles,

While we had many wonderful and memorable adventures over the years, one special story that I keep thinking about was on certain Valentine's Day evening in the mid-2000s when you came my rescue and showed me how you were really made. I was working on a critical research experiment where step after step was just unexpectedly taking much longer, and while I troubleshooted things it became clear that I was not going to be able to make my Valentine's Day dinner that my boyfriend at the time had planned for us. I was going to leave my bone marrow cells on ice and come back after dinner to sort the precious stem cells from them, and instead you unexpectedly came up to me and said "Little sister, just go and don't worry about it. Family is important - I'll finish your experiment for you." You had no reason to do that. It was complicated and had nothing to do with what you were working on. Despite that, you stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, sorted my cells, transplanted all of my animals, and helped me generate some beautiful data that let me graduate in a timely manner. I was so appreciative, but moreover it created a special bond between us and made me realize just how generous you always were.

I also want to publicly apologize for all of the funny Montana lab retreat evenings where I tried to cut off your beloved ponytail when we were graduate students. I just wanted to be the one with longer hair ;)

May your stories and inspiration live on always!

Share a story

Add a document, picture, song, or video
Add an attachment Add a media attachment to your story
You can illustrate your story with a photo, video, song, or PDF document attachment.