Senior Research Scientist and Principal Investigator
at the National Neuroscience Institute
At IMCB - Research Fellow 1996-2001;
Senior Research Fellow 2002-2008
It was 1996 when I graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow. Being a young lady in my 20's then and not having much of an ambition, it was very natural for me to continue my research work and do a postdoctoral. I always wanted to work in Asia and stay close to my home town in Beijing. I shared my thoughts with my supervisor Prof. Miles Houslay, who is internationally recognized for his work in cell signaling, and he highly recommended IMCB, which at that time was already well known for its high quality scientific papers and research capabilities. At that juncture, Singapore was often in the headlines for being a good place to work and settle down. I spoke with Dr. Catherine Pallen, a well-known figure in the field of Signaling Transduction whose lab at IMCB published the first Nature paper in Singapore. Catherine granted me an interview, and the rest is history.
Most of the time, being a research scientist is bitter sweet, with long hours in the lab, repeating experiments after experiments without a definite outcome, and hoping for a breakthrough. I remembered staying really close to the NUS campus in South Buona Vista area at that time, shuttling to and fro over weekends and late into the night to keep the experiments running 24-7. Often missing the last bus number 200 to get home. Nevertheless, Catherine was a great mentor, and she never failed to brighten our spirits and spur us on. Eventually, we discovered and proved the novel role of PTPa in a cis configuration with another cell surface receptor contactin, suggesting an additional mode of regulation for a PTP. The other work uncovered the PTP alpha functions in integrin signaling and cell migration as an Src-PTK activator, hence, establishing the findings that PTP alpha is required for early integrin-proximal events. Both works were published in the prestigious international Journal of Cell Biology.
I left IMCB in 2009 to start an independent lab at National Neuroscience Institute. Our lab focuses on deciphering the molecular mechanisms underlying Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, particularly for the role of microRNAs. The training at IMCB has prepared us well; we continue to thrive in science and publish our works in various internationally renowned journals. Looking back, I'm grateful to IMCB for teaching me to have perseverance and resilience when faced with difficulties, and for the never give up attitude. Science requires practitioners with passion, and only those passion will endure in the long haul. I am also grateful to my mentor Catherine Pallen for showing me the role of leading the pack, and the rigorous code of scientific discipline. Not to mention, the critical thinking and analytical skills needed for unraveling the mysteries of science.
IMCB has indeed made Singapore "the little red dot" stand out in the global world of life science. In addition, IMCB also provides the model, the concepts and cultural environment for setting up a research institute. Not forgetting contributions in the life science communities and talent pools that IMCB has created throughout these years. IMCB has been a training ground for the Singapore biomedical talent development, and it has provided the much needed manpower training and resources for many biomedical professionals. Look around and you will find many biological science professionals working in life-science related hospitals, institutes, universities, polytechnics, biotech companies, etc… all having their paths linked to IMCB, in one way or another.
It is difficult to write about my days at IMCB without mentioning the great friendships that we built while discussing science, jogging along Kent Ridge road, having celebration parties for successful publications at colleagues' homes in Holland V and Buona Vista, the wine and cheese sessions, and the sharing of our daily ups and downs in life. We worked like a family and encouraged one another. These are indeed fond memories that I will always cherish.
Coming back to reality, my current focus includes exploring the molecular mechanism underlying microRNA-mediated neurogenesis in neurological diseases; identifying possible microRNAs signature as a biomarker in early onset of dementia; establishing neuropathophysiology cross-talk between Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Last but not least, exploring novel stem cell therapy in Parkinson's disease.
In summary, there is an old Chinese saying that "it takes 10 years to grow a tree, but 100 years to develop talent". It is now time for IMCB to see its seeds bear fruits, and contribute to society and to Singapore's economy. Thank you, IMCB.
Zeng Li with lab colleagues at IMCB.
Zeng Li’s current lab at NNI.
Read more about Zeng Li’s lab here. https://www.nni.com.sg/research/our-laboratories/Neural-Stem-Cell-Research-Laboratory/Pages/Home.aspx