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James K. Chen

James K. Chen

Jauch Professor and Professor of Chemical and Systems Biology, of Developmental Biology and of Chemistry
Chemical and developmental biology


James Chen received his A.B. and Ph.D. degrees in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from Harvard, and he completed his postdoctoral studies at the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins. He joined the Stanford faculty in 2003, and his research interests span organic chemistry, chemical biology, developmental biology, and cancer biology.

The Chen lab investigates the molecular mechanisms that underlie tissue patterning and tumorigenesis, guided by chemical principles and enabled by chemical technologies. For example, the Chen group has developed small-molecule inhibitors of Hedgehog signaling, a biochemical pathway that is required for multiple aspects of embryonic development and contributes to human cancer. Among these compounds are the first specific inhibitors of cytoplasmic dyneins, microtubule motors that regulate a signaling organelle called the primary cilium. Members of the lab have also synthesized photoactivatable antisense oligonucleotides that allow gene expression to be suppressed with spatiotemporal precision. By applying these tools in zebrafish embryos, they have elucidated the transcriptional programs that regulate formation of the notochord, somites, and other mesodermal tissues.

More recently, the Chen group collaborated with the Harbury lab to devise new methods for time-resolved lanthanide microscopy. This approach takes advantage of the long-lived photoluminescence of lanthanide chelates, and it enables ultrasensitive, autofluorescence-free imaging of whole organisms. Current research interests in the lab include small-molecule modulators of stem cell metabolism, optogenetic tools for controlling developmental signaling pathways, spermiogenesis, and male contraception.


Professor, Chemical and Systems Biology
Professor, Developmental Biology
Professor, Chemistry
Member, Bio-X
Member, Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI)
Member, Stanford Cancer Institute
Faculty Fellow, Stanford ChEM-H
Member, Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute

Other Appointments

Faculty Lead, High-Throughput Screening, Innovative Medicines Accelerator (2021 - Present)
Chair of the Basic Science Chairs, Stanford University School of Medicine (2020 - Present)
Chair, Department of Chemical and Systems Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine (2016 - Present)
Director, Advisory Committee for the Scholarly Concentrations Program in the Molecular Basis of Medicine (2012 - Present)
Executive Committee Member, ChEM-H Institute (2012 - Present)
Executive Committee Member, Stanford University School of Medicine Faculty Senate (2012 - 2016)
Alternate Member, Stanford University Administrative Panel on Laboratory Animal Care (2012 - 2014)
Departmental Representative, Stanford Biosciences Committee on Graduate Admissions and Policy (2012 - 2014)
Member, Medical Scientist Training Program Admissions Committee (2004 - Present)
Faculty Director, Stanford High-Throughput Bioscience Center (2003 - Present)

Honors & Awards

Herbert and Marguerite Jauch Professorship, Stanford University (2019)
Rocek Lectureship in Chemical Biology, University of Illinois at Chicago (2019)
NSF INSPIRE Award, NSF (2013-2017)
Innovation Award, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation (2013-2015)
Nature SciCafe Award for Outstanding Research Achievement, Nature Biotechnology and Nature Medicine (2009)
NIH Director's Pioneer Award, NIH (2008-2013)
American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award, American Cancer Society (2008-2011)
Brain Tumor Society Award, Brain Tumor Society/Rachel Molly Markoff Foundation (2006-2008)
Astellas USA Foundation Award, Astella USA Foundation (2005-2006)
Terman Fellow, Stanford University (2005-2008)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

Editorial Board, Zebrafish (2008 - Present)
Editorial Board, Cell Chemical Biology (2009 - Present)
Scientific Advisory Board, Vibliome Therapeutics (2019 - Present)

Professional Education

A.B., Harvard College, Chemistry (1991)
Ph.D., Harvard University, Chemistry and Chemical Biology (1998)
Postdoctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Molecular Biology and Genetics (2003)

Featured Publications