< BackResearch FacultyRobert Chow, MD, PhD

Robert Chow, MD, PhD


Division: neurophotonics

Professor of Physiology & Biophysics

Research Interests:

One of the main aims of the Chow laboratory is to advance our understanding of how hormone and neuronal secretion (exocytosis) are controlled in normal and disease states. In the last two decades, the molecular biology revolution has led to the identification of dozens of proteins in nerve and hormone-secreting cells. The families of proteins are similar, when compared in these different secretory cells, indicating that what we learn in one cell type will apply to other cell types. One of the most exciting goals today is to figure out how these proteins orchestrate the complex life cycle of the transmitter-containing secretory vesicles. Another area of interest is developing biomimetic microelectronic prosthetic devices. In collaboration with Mark Humayun (Ophthalmology), we are studying how to optimize performance of a retinal chip that can be implanted into blind patients’ eyes to restore sight. We are also developing new nano-scale devices that will enable remote stimulation of neurons using light stimulation, potentially restoring sight by creating cellular prosthetic photoreceptors.


Robert H. Chow, MD, PhD, is professor of physiology and biophysics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He is a former Howard Hughes Medical Institute Physician Fellow and Fellow of the American College of Physicians. Dr. Chow’s research is conducted in the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, where his focus is on hormone and neuronal secretion in normal and pathological states. Two areas of particular interest are diabetes and retinal-neurological diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration. He was also one of the lead investigators, along with Dr. James Weiland and Dr. Mark Humayun, on a groundbreaking study of how to improve visual acuity in retinitis pigmentosa patients who have had the Argus II epiretinal implant, which appeared in the journal Science Translational Medicine in 2015. He received an M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and conducted postdoctoral work in biophysics in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Professor Erwin Neher at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry.

List of Publications:

  • Rohan JG, Citron YR, Durrell AC, Cheruzel LE, Gray HB, Grubbs RH, Humayun M, Engisch KL, Pikov V, Chow RH. (2013) Light-triggered modulation of cellular electrical activity by ruthenium diimine nanoswitches. ACS Chem Neurosci. 4(4):585-93.
  • Hwang JY, Lee NS, Lee C, Lam KH, Kim HH, Woo J, Lin MY, Kisler K, Choi H, Zhou Q, Chow RH, Shung KK. (2013) Investigating contactless high frequency ultrasound microbeam stimulation for determination of invasion potential of breast cancer cells. Biotechnol Bioeng. 110(10):2697-705.
  • Lin MY, Rohan JG, Cai H, Reim K, Ko CP, Chow RH. (2013) Complexin facilitates exocytosis and synchronizes vesicle release in two secretory model systems. J Physiol. 591(Pt 10):2463-73.
  • Weitz AC, Behrend MR, Lee NS, Klein RL, Chiodo VA, Hauswirth WW, Humayun MS, Weiland JD, Chow RH. (2013) Imaging the response of the retina to electrical stimulation with genetically encoded calcium indicators. J Neurophysiol. 109(7):1979-88.


  • B.A., Brown University, 1981.
  • M.D., Ph.D., Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1988.
  • Internal medicine residency, Univ. of Colorado Health Sciences Center, 1988-1990.
  • Board Certification, Internal Medicine, 1991.
  • Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellowship, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Germany, 1990- 1993.
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute Physician Postdoctoral Fellowship, Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Germany, 1993-1995.

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