Research Horizons


New Leader for Pulmonary Biology: Jichao Chen, PhD, MHS

Photo of Jichao Chen, PhD, MHS

Jichao Chen, PhD, MHS, a distinguished leader in the area of lung development, single-cell genomics and cell signaling, has been selected as the new division director of Pulmonary Biology at Cincinnati Children’s. 

Chen was selected after an extensive search chaired by Rashmi Hegde, PhD, vice chair for basic research and education, and Aaron Zorn, PhD, director of the Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine (CuSTOM) and future division director of Developmental Biology.  

He will officially begin his new role in Jan. 2024 and succeeds Jeffrey Whitsett, PhD, who has served in the role for 36 years. Whitsett—who was recently named a “Giant in Medicine” by The Journal of Clinical Investigation—will continue to serve as co-director of the Perinatal Institute. 

As one of the largest lung research centers in the nation, the Division of Pulmonary Biology is comprised of researchers who are collectively focused on understanding the molecular and cellular events in lung development and diseases. Through this work, they hope to enable therapies to be developed for lung diseases in both children and adults. 

“We are grateful to Dr. Whitsett for his dedicated service, leadership and commitment to the Division of Pulmonary Biology and are looking forward to seeing how Dr. Chen builds upon his vision for the division,” says Tina Cheng, MD, MPH, chair of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, director of the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation, and chief medical officer for Cincinnati Children’s. 

Chen’s vision for the division includes the dawn of the computational genomics era in science and medicine, characterized by the exponential accumulation of genome-wide data across each cell type in any species and synergistic infusion of computational analysis to perceive, synthesize, and infer biology. In medicine, he envisions three paths of translational research to define, model and treat diseases, which will also become increasingly genome-wide and computer-assisted. He also expects an urgency to facilitate the transition to the new era of computational genomics and prepare Cincinnati Children’s leaders and employees on how to leverage this new technology and knowledge.  

Chen has spent the first 12 years of his career as a faculty member at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and is currently associate professor within their Department of Pulmonary Medicine – Research, Division of Internal Medicine. His research focuses on understanding the normal developmental processes that build the lung and how such processes go awry during lung malformations, injury and tumorigenesis. 

He attended Johns Hopkins University for his graduate education, where he obtained a PhD in molecular biology and genetics from its School of Medicine as well as a Master of Health Science degree in bioinformatics from its School of Public Health. He also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry at Stanford University.