What is the current focus of your research?
My laboratory combines stem cell biology and systems-based approaches involving molecular biology, genetics, genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics to unravel gene transcription and regulatory mechanisms governing stem cell differentiation. One major focus of our group is investigating stem cell neural differentiation and developing effective and safe treatment for spinal cord injury and neurological diseases. We are studying gene expression and the regulation of transcription factors and regulatory RNAs using next-generation sequencing technologies including RNA-Seq and ChIP-Seq. These studies are crucial in understanding the molecular mechanism of stem cell neural differentiation and its clinical implications. Our goal is to identify and modulate key regulators as therapeutic targets to direct the differentiation of stem cells into neural cells types of our interest more efficiently, and to increase transplantation safety. The other area of our research interest lies in the studies of the regulatory networks of hematopoietic precursor cell self-renewal and differentiation. We are using integrated genomic and proteomic approaches to identify key components that control the switch. This study can provide insight for efficient expanding and manipulating hematopoietic precursor and stem cells.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
My mother is a physicist and my father is a biologist. When I was a child, they often told me stories about great scientists, so I thought this is want I want to be when I grow up. I never regret it for a moment! When I was a postdoc in the laboratory of Michael Snyder, I had an opportunity to take stem cell training courses at WiCell and worked with renowned stem cell scientists such as Haifan Lin. I realized how powerful it would be if stem cell biology is combined with genomics. We urgently need the interdisciplinary approaches in the field of stem cell in order to generate a comprehensive picture of stem cell biology and better steer the direction of differentiation, as well as develop more effective and safer treatments.
How do you spend your free time?
In addition to music, culture and art, I enjoy the great outdoors and nature. When I was a postdoc at Yale, I skied regularly. When I was at Stanford, I enjoyed hiking in the Bay Area. Recently I have picked up surfing. We are only an hour away to the Gulf of Mexico.
What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
When I was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale, I volunteered at a local animal shelter. I used to clean the cages every Friday evening. My work was busy, so I didn’t have any pets at the time. It was fun to play with the animals while I was cleaning.
What do you like most about living and working in Houston?
Houston is a very international city and we have the largest medical center in the world -- the Texas Medical Center (TMC). There are 21 hospitals, eight academic and research institutions, six nursing programs, three public health organizations, three medical schools, two universities, two pharmacy schools, and a dental school in TMC. People are very collaborative at the University of Texas and we have excellent intellectual environment to carry out creative research.
What do you gain from your membership with the ISSCR?
I have been a member of the ISSCR for almost ten years. I won a travel award when I was a postdoc so I could travel to the annual meeting in Barcelona and give an oral presentation about my work. ISSCR administrators and staff members are really helpful. I appreciate the wonderful career development opportunities such as luncheons for Junior Investigators or Early Career Group Leaders to meet the leaders in the field and the ISSCR Board of Directors. Also ISSCR Connect and the newsletters provide the latest development in the stem cell field. I enjoy going to the annual meeting to present our work and to meet my colleagues and old friends in the field.