Cherry Blossoms

Robert Yu

January 27, 1938 ~ May 18, 2022 (age 84)


Robert Kuan-Jen Yu, Ph.D., Med.Sci.D., born January 27, 1938 in Chongqing, Sichuan to Shin Cheng Yu and June Chien-Yu Tsao Yu, Ph.D., passed away peacefully on May 18, 2022 at the age of 84. He is survived by his beloved wife of 49 years, Helen, son David and his wife Roberta and their children Braeden and Corinne, daughter Jennifer and her husband Yoon and their son Daniel, brothers Michael and Roger, and sister Mary and their families.

Dr. Yu, also known to many affectionately as “Bob,” graduated from Tunghai University, Taichung, Taiwan with a B.S. in Chemistry in 1960. He received his Ph.D with a major in Biochemistry and minors in Organic and Physical Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign in 1967 under the mentorship of Herbert E. Carter, Ph.D. He followed in the footsteps of his beloved and accomplished mother, Dr. June Yu, who graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign with a Ph.D. in Chemistry and a pioneer as the first Chinese woman to receive a Ph.D. in Chemistry in the U.S. He completed postdoctoral training in the Department of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Yeshiva University from 1967 – 1972 under the mentorship of Robert W. Ledeen, Ph.D. Dr. Yu also received a Med.Sci.D. honorary degree from the University of Tokyo in 1980 and an M.A.H. honorary degree from Yale University in 1985. Dr. Yu also had 1 year sabbatical at the University of Tokyo from 1979 – 1980 and summer sabbaticals at the University of Bonn from 1991 – 1993. 

Dr. Yu began a distinguished independent scientific career in the Departments of Neurology; Chemistry; and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Yale University as an Assistant Professor in 1973 and was rapidly promoted through to the rank of tenured Professor where he worked until 1988. He was then recruited as Chair and Professor of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2000, he was recruited as Director and Professor of the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics (IMMAG) at the Medical College of Georgia and served in that capacity until 2009. Since 2009 until his death, he was Professor of the Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Regents University, and Augusta University.

Dr. Yu had an internationally distinguished career where he made pioneering contributions to our understanding of glycoconjugates, complex sugar molecules that facilitate many biological functions, in health and disease. His research program has identified and structurally characterized about 1/3 of all brain gangliosides, provided important insights into the regulatory mechanisms of ganglioside biosynthesis during development, characterized stage-specific glycoconjugates in neural stem cells, and elucidated immunological properties of glycosphingolipids and how their dysregulation contributes to multiple neurological disorders, including Guillain-Barre Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease as well as to cholera and cancer. Dr. Yu published over 450 scientific papers, 600 scientific abstracts, and 4 books, had 4 patents. Remarkably, he was continuously funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) for over 45 years with active NIH R01 funding at the time of his death. He received numerous honors, including elected Academician of the Academia Sinica, Taiwan Republic of China (2004 – present); Jacob Javits Neurosciences Investigator Award (1984 – 1991); Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist of the Year Award (1995); Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award (1991 – 1993); Eminent Scholar, Georgia Research Alliance (2000 – present); Distinguished Alumnus Award, Tunghai University, Taiwan (2002); Achievement Award, Chinese Engineers and Scientists Association of Southern California (CEASC) (2003); Distinguished Research Award, Medical College of Georgia (2006); Outstanding Faculty Award, Medical College of Georgia (2006, 2009); and Lifetime Achievements Award, Medical College of Georgia (2010). Dr. Yu served as President of the American Society of Neurochemistry (ASN) from 2001 – 2003, and President of the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America from 2008 – 2010. He served on multiple review panels for the NIH and other federal and foundation panels, served on the editorial boards or as Associate Editor of numerous scientific journals, and was a member of numerous professional societies. He was a mentor to numerous young scientists, including his two children David and Jennifer who are both accomplished physician-scientists and many others who have emerged as leaders in the field of neuroscience.

Dr. Yu was a devoted son, loving husband, father, and sibling, generous colleague, and loyal friend. He loved entertaining friends and colleagues, enjoying classical music, taking walks on the Augusta Greenway, and enjoying time with his family.

The funeral service will be held at Rowland-Ford Funeral Home located at 637 West Martintown Road, North Augusta, SC 29841 on Thursday, May 26, 2022 from 2 – 4 pm. The family will receive friends at the funeral home beginning one hour before the funeral service.  A livestream of the service will be available at the following link:  Out of precaution for rising COVID cases, the family requests all guests and visitors wear masks. Burial Service will be held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park – Hollywood Hills located at 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068 on Thursday, June 23, 2022. A Robert K. Yu, Ph.D. endowed lectureship is being established in his name. In lieu of flowers, checks can be made to Robert K. Yu Memorial Fund and delivered to a Wells Fargo branch or submitted to Mrs. Helen Yu. Alternatively, Zelle to 

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May 26, 2022

1:00 PM to 2:00 PM
Rowland-Ford Funeral Home
637 W. Martintown Road
North Augusta, SC 29841

Funeral Service
May 26, 2022

2:00 PM
Rowland-Ford Funeral Home Chapel
637 W. Martintown Road
North Augusta, SC 29841

Video is available for this event

June 23, 2022

Forest Lawn Memorial Park - Hollywood Hills
6300 Forest Lawn Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90068

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