Wonhwa Cho is not new to the University of Illinois at Chicago, but he is to the University of Illinois Cancer Center.
Cho, PhD, the Liberal Arts and Sciences Science Endowed Chair, UIC distinguished professor, and head of the department of chemistry, is one of the newest members to join the UI Cancer Center. He joined the department of chemistry as an assistant professor in 1990. He received both a bachelor’s and master’s of science degree in chemistry from Seoul National University in Korea. He went on to earn his PhD in chemistry from the University of Chicago, and completed postdoctoral work in chemical biology at California Institute of Technology.
Over the past 30 years, Cho has worked on chemical biology and biophysics of membrane lipids that play key roles in biological regulation and are thus implicated in numerous human diseases. He challenged the dogma in the field that only a limited number of highly specialized proteins can bind membrane lipids and has demonstrated that lipids interact with a wide range of regulatory proteins, thereby establishing them as central and critical regulators of biological processes.
Cho also pioneered a new lipid imaging technology that overcomes the extreme technical difficulty in quantitative analysis of lipid-mediated processes and permits accurate time-resolved determination of local lipid concentrations in living cells. This methodology has revealed that lipids serve as local allosteric regulators and signaling mediators in a wide variety of biological processes, a paradigm-shifting discovery with a huge impact on cell biology and drug development. He also recently discovered that cholesterol specifically interacts with cellular proteins that coordinate and control cell growth and proliferation.
Throughout his career, Cho has received numerous awards for his work, including the Avanti Award in Lipids from the Biophysical Society; the Researcher of the Year Award from UIC; and has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He became Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Chemical Biology in 2003, the first Liberal Arts and Sciences Science Endowed Chair in 2017, and UIC distinguished professor in 2018. He has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Progress in Lipid Research, and has organized several conferences and symposia. His work has been continuously supported by multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health.