What is your current career stage? With which institutions and departments are you affiliated, and what position(s) do you hold?
I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (HCOM), at Ohio University. I am also an investigator at the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute (OMNI).
Who were/are your past scientific mentors?
I did my 1st half of PhD training in Zhejiang University in China with Dr. Hong Wei Ouyang, and 2nd half of PhD training at Johns Hopkins University in the US with Dr. Xu Cao. Then I completed a Postdoc training with Dr. Tim Griffin at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Can you give us a brief overview of your research?
My lab’s overall research focus is to understand how aging and obesity interact to cause osteoarthritis (OA) via affecting metabolic pathways. We have recently demonstrated that Sirt5 decreases in cartilage during aging. This decrease in combination with obesity promotes post-translational modifications (PTM) and dysfunctions of many metabolic proteins. We are investigating how Sirt5 and PTMs affect chondrocyte metabolism and osteoarthritis development. We recently also developed a new line of research investigating the role of growth hormone in chondrocyte metabolism and osteoarthritis development during aging. We are using both long and short-lived animal models with modulated growth hormone actions to investigate if growth hormone could potentially be a therapeutic candidate for OA.
How did you get involved in orthopaedic research?
I basically have been studying osteoarthritis since my very first day as a graduate student in 2011. Looking back, it appears that my previous training experience has followed 2 emerging consensuses in the field: first, OA is a whole joint disease affecting multiple joint tissues; second, OA often times is a systemic disease. I studied how activation of OCRL1-Rac1 signaling in cartilage tissue contributes to injury induced OA development. In 2014, I continued my training as a joint PhD student and a short-term postdoc at the Department of Orthopedics Surgery in the Johns Hopkins University. My research there was to study how another joint tissue, subchondral bone remodels to contribute to OA pain. Through this phase of training, I gained substantial experience working with genetically modified mouse models. For my formal postdoc training, I wanted to gain insights into how the 2 biggest and systemic risk factors, aging and obesity, contribute to OA. Therefore, in 2017 I joined the Aging & Metabolism Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. My research there was focused on studying how mitochondrial deacetylase Sirt3 regulates metabolism and stress response in chondrocytes. Despite significant challenges posed by the pandemic (3 on-site interview invites, 2 cancelled), I was fortunate to land my current position in 2020. I have since started building my osteoarthritis research program here at OU!
How has the ORS supported you?
I have got to know a lot of colleagues and peers, and initiate collaborative work with them through ORS annual meetings.
What is your favorite thing about the ORS?
I enjoy the inclusive environment and the many opportunities to network with other researchers that the ORS provides. I also particularly like how they get trainees/early career researchers involved in decision making and organizing.
Why do you believe diversity and inclusion is important?
There is a Chinese saying, ‘With three people walking together, there is always a teacher among them’. In my opinion, being exclusive is oftentimes a reflection of arrogance and naivety. I believe our resilience to challenges as a research community is much higher if we have members with diverse backgrounds.
What are your career goals?
Same as many OA researchers, finding a disease-modifying drug for OA is my long-term career goal!
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your scientific career? (socially, professionally, culturally, scientifically, etc.)
My experience on the job market in 2019-2020 looking for a faculty position was definitely a challenge. With widespread hiring freezes at that time, I felt so unsure about the future. The worst part is the thought that I had to bet my family’s future on this seemingly hopeless path.
Any personal interests or hobbies you would like to share?
I used to love playing badminton (though considered as an Asian sport, do you know it likely originated from England?). After starting working at OU, I have switched to playing tennis (looks similar to badminton, but it is actually very different).
What personal advice would you give to new investigators starting out in the field?
With still trying to keep my lab open for as long as I can, I am not sure if I can offer much valuable advice. I know being persistent and open-minded has helped me.