My wished that I had the knowledge to

My grandfather’s stroke and grandmother’s breast cancer helped me realize how a
tragic illness can transform someone’s life. For the first time, I experienced the
feeling of utter helplessness when watching a loved one suffer while knowing nothing
about how to cure them or relieve their pain. How deeply I wished that I had the
knowledge to develop remedies for them. Those experiences spurred my desire to
study biology and cure diseases. However at that time, I did not know whether it
would be better to become a clinician or a biomedical researcher. As a doctor, I
would be able to treat my loved ones by myself. As a research, I would push the
edge of technology and develop new therapies to save lives from diseases that
cannot be cured yet.
As such, I collected experiences in both research and clinical practice during summer
vacations and semesters. In Professor Ying Jin’s lab at the Chinese Academy of
Sciences, I helped to analyze the Tbx3-bound DNA sequence to reveal the
mechanism of Tbx3 protein regulating the self-renewal and pluripotency of embryonic
stem cells using the chromatin immunoprecipitation method; in Professor Shang Li’s
lab at Duke-NUS Medical School, I studied the role of telomerase associative
proteins Pol1 and Pol12 in regulating telomere length through various knock-ins of
the Pol1 or Pol12 genes in yeast cells. I also shadowed Dr. Allen Yeoh at National
University Hospital in Singapore. I realized that I was destined for a research career
when Dr. Allen told me more than once that doctors’ “weapons” against a disease
were restricted by technology and they were eagerly looking forward to the
development of new therapies based on new research. At that time, I understood that
a career in research to make new discoveries and develop new technology was more
attractive for me.
Hence, I chose to work as a research assistant at Mechanobiology Institute in
Singapore to collect more research experience to prepare myself for PhD study. In
Professor Hanry Yu’s lab, I worked with a PhD candidate to study the contraction and
dynamic alteration of bile canaliculi at normal status and cholestasis disease status.
During the project, I contributed not only to the experiment aspect but also data
analysis and figure generation. The project resulted in huge success and revealed a
potential mechanism of bile regurgitation in cholestasis diseases. Eventually, our
discovery ended into a publication in Journal of Hepatology and hopefully will
contribute to future development of therapies for obstructive cholestasis-related liver
diseases. This experience allowed me not only to develop biomedical engineering
knowledge and learn to participate in a complete project from the hypothesis until the
final publication, but also to transition into a more professional mindset. I began to  see the big picture of a project and understand the impact of my research work on
the society.
To prepare me better with knowledge in the field of biomedical engineering, I decided
to pursue a master degree at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and learn more about
this area. I joined in Professor Hai-Quan Mao’s lab at Institute of NanoBioTechnology.
Here I am learning from a postdoc and conducting an individual project to study the
influence of drug loading levels on the efficacy of cancer drug-loaded nanoparticles.
Based on a previously published paper, I hypothesize that there is an optimal drug
loading level for each type of drug loaded nanoparticles to achieve its maximum
efficacy, which is important for future nanoparticle designs. I adopt curcumin as a
model cancer drug and fabricate nanoparticles with different drug loading levels
using Flash NanoComplexation technique. I have examined the cytotoxicity of these
nanoparticles against PC3 cancer cells as in vitro model and will also examine the
anti-cancer effects in tumor-bearing Balb/c nude mice as in vivo model. The
experience at JHU further pushes me to pursue a more advanced education that
would prepare me for a career in advanced research.
With all my education and research experiences, now I believe I am ready for PhD
study. I am attracted by the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Doctoral Program at Yale
because of both its interdisciplinary curriculum and professors who I can work with.
Owing to the flexible curriculum, a student with pure biology background like me can
easily find suitable courses to expand knowledge in fields that are pertinent to
cutting-edge research. Furthermore, the faculty in the program are conducting
researches of exciting topics that are of greatest interest to me: the biomechanism in
cancer. I came to know Dr. Andre Levchenko after reading his papers in the field of
biomechanism. I felt excited since his work matches my belief that the
interdisciplinary combination of biology and engineering will collide a spark of
intelligence and tremendously contribute to cancer prognosis and treatment.
Therefore, I contacted and met with Dr. Levchenko. He kindly introduced the
systematic study of cancer biomechanism in his lab, including the study of cancer cell
migration for prognosis, the study of signalling pathways involved in cell migration,
and the discovery of potential anti-cancer drug to inhibit cell migration. I expressed
my enthusiasm to study mechanobiology related to cancer cell migration in his lab,
and he agrees to become my primary supervisor. He also described that the BME
Program had a highly collaborative environment in which a student like me could
collaborate with colleagues not only inside the department but also across different
department. Hence, I have also contacted with Dr. Nita Ahuja who will join the Department of Surgery at Yale next year, and she is willing to become my cosupervisor.
With both supervisors and the collaboration between different
departments, I will be able to conduct many exciting translational research projects at
Yale. After the PhD study, I want to become a leader in academia and push the edge
of biomechanical knowledge that may contribute to advanced therapies for diseases
like cancer.
Through my experience in research, I believe Yale with collaborative environment
and attractive research topics is the right school for me to join and conduct my
research.