In Dialogue with a Budding Geneticist
Landon Chan, a Year 3 medical student at S.H. Ho College, has been selected as a recipient for the Innovation and Technology Scholarship Award which is organized by The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups and jointly sponsored by the Innovation and Technology Commission and HSBC. The Scheme aims to nurture 25 aspiring young scientists each year by providing ample exposure to innovation and technology with different modes of learning. With the scholarship support, Landon will be learning research skills in a sizeable laboratory at Yale University this summer.
What will you be doing in the laboratory at Yale? Aspiring to be a geneticist-cum-doctor, would you please briefly describe the idea of genome?
I am doing my bioinformatics/genomic research at the Gerstein lab at Yale for 10 weeks, where I utilize computational means to analyze genomic data in order to understand or to predict the functional aspects of different elements of our genome. In our language, each person has around 3 billion base-pair of genomic materials. So that easily translates to several GB of data per person. Without computational methods, it is impossible to study the genome in an efficient and generalized manner.
Could you please further describe the Gerstein Lab? What kind of technology would you expect to learn at Yale?
The Gerstein lab is the largest bioinformatics lab in Yale, and is probably one of the largest groups in the States. They are involved in large scale international consortium projects such as the encyclopedia of DNA elements (ENCODE) and 1000 Genome Project, which are important database for the scientific community to analyze and understand our genome. At Yale, I expect to learn skills related to the project (e.g. computational skills, handling the data, knowledge in general) as well as how a large lab is managed by attending their various lab meetings. I think some of the skills learn here might be useful in the projects I do at Prof. Dennis Lo’s laboratory back in Hong Kong. (Remark: Prof. Lo’s research team is at the forefront of the clinical application of genomics.)
How does Innovation and Technology relate to your aspiration in your future career as a clinician, a professor and a researcher?
Innovation and Technology has a huge potential in revolutionizing the current way of healthcare management. With our increased understanding of the genome, diagnostic and (potentially) therapeutic benefits can be realized from research done on personalized genomics. That is, we can identify, or sub-categorize diseases and potentially manage certain subset of diseases according to the genetic abnormalities occurring within each individual. This is a huge change of paradigm in western medicine—changing from a non-specific management to an individualized management.
To give a simple example as an illustration, in the old days, if a person has cancer, the only medical treatment is through chemotherapy regardless of who you are. But now, we better understand the cancer genome, certain cancers, such as haematological malignancies, breast cancer and lung cancer, may harbor unique mutations that targeted therapy can be useful, which can drastically extend patients’ survival.
Innovation is the spirit that the College and Master Sun have been advocating. Would you say a few words to encourage the SHHO community to pursue innovation in their studies and daily life?
Pursuing a career in innovation is both challenging and rewarding. The pursuit of innovation stems from our intrinsic curiosity and benevolence in helping the world to become a better place. Within the innovation community, you get to interact with the brightest ideas around the world, and different people coming from multi-disciplinary background offering different expertise. The learning is tremendous and the process from idea-generating to actually producing some results can be extremely rewarding. I would encourage the SHHO community who wish to challenge themselves to pursue this very exciting career!
Thank you for your sharing. Enjoy your learning at Yale. I hope that the overseas exposure helps you broaden your perspective in medical practice and learn from medical practitioners from around the world.