What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
The major interest of my laboratory is to perform human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-based modeling for human diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and infectious diseases. We used hPSC-derived cells and/or organoids to systematically analyze the role of human genes and variants in human development, cell function and disease progression. In addition, we will adapt the hPSC-based disease models to high throughput/content screens to identify drug candidates for precision medicine.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
My dad is a material scientist. When I was young, I knew that I wanted to be a scientist as my profession. I started working on stem cells during my PhD in Scripps. At that time, we wanted to find the small molecules that can facilitate mouse ES cell self-renewal. After my PhD training, I was inspired by the translational future hPSCs and started working on hPSCs.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
The most exciting part of our work is when our models were adapted to a new disease. For example, in response to COVID-19, we applied hPSC-derived cells/organoids to study tropism of SARS-CoV-2 infection, host response, immune-cell mediated host damage, and performed drug screens.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
Think big: Always keep an eye on the big picture, both for research projects and for scientific career.
Follow novel technologies: Novel bio-technologies, such as CRISPR-based gene editing, scRNA-seq etc, have reshaped the stem cell field and broadly extended the field. Apply the novel technologies to your own system as early as possible.
Ask questions: For both your own and others’ projects, keep asking “why?”
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
My postdoctoral advisor, Dr. Doug Melton. Doug’s passion, vision, and dedication to stem cell biology and diabetes have always inspired me.
How do you spend your free time?
I have two children. One is 12 years old and the other is eight years old. As all working mothers, I have no real “free” time. When I am not busy with work, I like running, cooking, and spending time with my family.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
People are surprised when they know I sing.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
ISSCR provides a scientific community for scientists at different career stages. I started attending ISSCR annual meeting when I was a graduate student. Every time I participate in an ISSCR meeting, I meet some new friends, some of whom become long-term collaborators.