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2023 Award of Merit Recipient

Doris Wu, Ph.D.

Doris Wu grew up in Hong Kong, where her mother was a grade-school teacher and her father a civil servant. She has loved biology ever since high school and she came to the United States for college, majoring in Biology and Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point.  Still passionate about biology but unsure about her next career move after graduation, she worked as a laboratory technician at the Department of Physiology, School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where she later obtained her master’s degree in 1978, studying endocrinology of the reproductive system. She then moved across town to the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) to further her graduate work in studying neuronal and glia interactions. Doris received her PhD from now the Department of Neurobiology in 1983. After a brief postdoctoral fellowship at the Mental Retardation Center at UCLA, she joined Dr. Constance Cepko’s laboratory at the Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School as a postdoctoral fellow. There, she studied cell type determination in the mammalian retina, focusing on the development of a subtype of amacrine cells. 

As a sensory system developmental neurobiologist, Doris was drawn to the beauty and complexity of the inner ear structure and although she had never received formal training in this field, she accepted her first independent position at the Intramural program of NIDCD in 1993. She set out to decipher the molecular mechanisms underlying the formation of the inner ear. She rose through the ranks at the NIH, and now holds the position of Chief in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, NIDCD. She views her scientific journey as deeply rewarding and complementary to that of many others in the development field who have identified some of the key genes and molecular pathways underlying the formation of this amazing organ. The knowledge gained from these discoveries continues to provide the basis for hair cell regeneration research and for understanding the etiology of hereditary deafness.

Doris has been a single mom since her son was 10 months old. Managing work and family life balance was a challenge when her son was growing up. Now, when she is not visiting her 102-year-old mother in Hong Kong, she enjoys cooking and taking walks while talking to life-long friends in her spare time.