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I am Penn State Health: Dr. Keith Cheng

Laboratory research and playing piano music ― two of Dr. Keith Cheng’s passions ― are strikingly similar, the Penn State College of Medicine pathology professor and director of experimental pathology says.

In both, you imagine an ideal and experiment to create it, using failure as a teacher that leads to discovery.

Cheng’s persistence, mixed with an insatiable curiosity and desire to make a difference, fuels the excitement of this 27-year-veteran of Penn State Health to come to work every day.

Watch video: Find out why Dr. Keith Cheng is proud to share his passion for research.

Users on clinical workstations at Hershey Medical Center: Click here to hear Dr. Keith Cheng share his passion for research.

Most Unique Lab Partner

I work with zebrafish to study issues related to human genetics, particularly the genetics of human skin color as a model for human disease, as well as tissue architecture. Zebrafish are a lot like us ― we are both vertebrates, and 85 percent of human genes known to be associated with human disease have a counterpart in zebrafish.

Most Memorable Projects

The first was discovering a key to the mystery of differences in human skin colors. Second, we’ve developed a form of 3D, X-ray imaging that will allow us to see every cell in tissue samples and small organisms at unprecedented resolution, which can impact cancer diagnosis and drug development.

Most Exciting Part of My Job

I am delighted to be able to help others enjoy a sense of wonder through my laboratory’s work, such as seeing organisms at a level of detail never before possible.

My Take on the Bigger Picture

First, researchers across Penn State Health can benefit from our new imaging tools, and researchers and their students from the areas of personalized medicine, neurology and genomics use the Zebrafish Functional Genomics and Imaging Core. Also, we can connect them with other investigators across the globe.

Best Part of Working Here

People are really passionate about helping each other here, in a way that no ego is involved. When we get people like that together, great things happen!

Biggest Challenge

There is a lot of competition for grants, and the number of dollars available per investigator is shrinking.

Favorite Way to Spend a Day Off

I love playing chamber music, going to museums, watching thriller movies and going to the local coffee shop and running into people I know.


It’s REALLY fun to be a nerd!

A Top Item on My Bucket List:

I’d love to do a Ted Talk on the serendipity of discovery and the awe-inspiring world of biological structure.

How I’d Change the World

I’d like to create a deep understanding of the genetics of human skin color and tie that directly to how we perceive each other and can live in greater harmony.

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