A Life-Changing Internship in the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB)
Recollecting back, 1999 was a defining moment in my life! It was the year that IMCB accepted me for an internship programme in Prof. Hong Wanjin’s lab when I was back in Singapore from Canada for my summer vacation. It was a life-changing internship because it planted the seed which went on to blossom into a longer and deeper relationship with IMCB. Two years later, I graduated from the University of Toronto and found myself in IMCB again, but this time round as a Ph.D. student. It was not by lucky tip, but a single-minded decision that this was the place that I would spend my next 5 years or so pursuing my passion for research because it’s where I had many fond memories and it’s where I could see my aspirations fulfilled! My Ph.D. research was conducted in Dr. Li Baojie’s lab. I used genetic evidence from mouse models to elucidate signaling pathways in DNA damages in tumorigenesis and in bone formation and turnover in osteoporosis. Beyond the intellectual demands, the grueling 5-year ‘marathon’ nurtured me in the other equally important ‘soft’ aspects of doing research, i.e. the mettle to deal with the countless ups and downs of research, being resourceful, and the ability to solve problems collaboratively, yet independently. These are life-long skills that equipped me for my journey well beyond IMCB.
After completing my Ph.D. in 2006, I was honored to receive a Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation fellowship and joined Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn’s lab in the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) where my research centered around telomeres, the protective ends of the chromosomes, and on telomerase, the enzyme that extends the telomeres. Together with Prof. John Sedat, I explored a live cell dynamic approach to telomere regulation. The topic of telomeres and telomerase has won Prof. Blackburn the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2009. It was the training I had received from IMCB and the technical skills and a number of original publications I had in Dr. Li Baojie’s lab that have gotten me the opportunity to work with world-class/top-notch scientists. I also had the chance in 2008 to work with Prof. Edison Liu in the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), substantiating my research on telomeres and telomerase with a genomics perspective. Throughout, my blessings come from people who helped me with learning when I fell and make mistakes and mentorship from Profs. Li Baojie, Elizabeth Blackburn and Edison Liu refined me to who I am today.
I am currently a faculty in the Department of Biochemistry, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, at the National University of Singapore (http://www.med.nus.edu.sg/bch/pi/wxy/). My laboratory is over four and half years-old. I am currently developing novel anti-cancer therapies based on telomerase inhibitors and aim to decipher the mechanisms of telomere attrition-induced body dysfunctions using both human clinical samples and mouse models to provide new therapeutics, especially in metabolic and cognitive areas such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and neurodegeneration.
To end, IMCB has played a career-defining role in my life and I am deeply grateful for the invaluable experience and training that it has bestowed on me. I would like to especially extend my heartfelt thanks all the people during my stint in IMCB which include Professors Uttam Surana, Hong Wanjin, Li Peng, Zhang Lianhui, Alan Porter, Zeng Qi, Peter Lobie and my colleagues in various labs with whom I shared many memorable experiences together!