SCPKU faculty fellow shares research on genetics and human diseases


Hua Tang, Stanford Associate Professor of Genetics, visited SCPKU as a faculty fellow in March 2015.  Below are the highlights of a conversation Professor Tang had with SCPKU in which she shares more details about her research and the contributions SCPKU made to her work in China.


Q: Describe your research and its connection to China

My research aims to develop statistical and computational methods for elucidating the genetic basis of human complex diseases. My current focus is on two related themes: identifying disease risk factors by integrating functional genomic information, and understanding factors that contribute to differential disease prevalence across human populations. My SCPKU faculty fellowship has given me the opportunity to explore new dimensions related to both themes.  Through connections I have made with scholars at Peking University (PKU), I will be able to combine biological knowledge and population-based association evidence in my efforts to identify genetic risk factors for complex diseases.  I also plan to compare epidemiologic data based on the East Asian population in the U.S. and epidemiological studies in China to understand the role of life-style risk factors, such as diet and physical activities, in ethnic health disparity.


Q: What got you interested in the study of human complex diseases?

I have always enjoyed mathematics, but it is very important to me that my work has direct benefit to people. Luckily, in college and during graduate school, I discovered that statistical and population genetics are areas in which I could use mathematical tools to gain insights relevant to human health. We are living in an era of big data; combining novel statistical models, efficient computational tools and large-scale biomedical data offers fantastic opportunities to make real contributions to medicine and public health.


Q: Why did you decide to apply for an SCPKU Faculty Fellowship?

I wanted to connect better with the scientific community in China.  I had already started communicating remotely with a PKU professor at PKU, whose research shares common goals with mine but who takes complementary approaches. The SCPKU faculty fellowship would allow me to travel to China and strengthen ties with faculty at PKU.  I also look forward to the opportunities of interacting with students at PKU.


Q: How valuable was SCPKU's team in supporting your fellowship at SCPKU?

Extremely valuable!   I got a nice office on the courtyard level, great IT and staff support. Also, I had the opportunity to interact with faculty from other departments for collaborations.


Q: What were your fellowship objectives and were they met?  Also, if applicable, aside from the fellowship, how did SCPKU help you to achieve your objectives?

My first visit to SCPKU in March was very productive and I was able further my research on the two themes I mentioned earlier.  I also taught a lecture in a concurrent SCPKU graduate seminar, through which I got to know the work of Professor Randall Stafford from the Stanford Prevention Research Center.  Professor Stafford was also an SCPKU faculty fellow and taught a graduate seminar at SCPKU this past spring focused on chronic disease in China.  I was able to participate in the seminar and establish new ties with instructors and participants of this  multidisciplinary seminar including Chinese scholars, health practitioners and government representatives from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and other health-related organizations. 

Being physically at SCPKU this past spring really helped to stimulate my research program. The fellowship has opened up many possibilities for interacting with scholars at Peking University and the broader scientific community in Beijing. I hope to expand these relationships by making several more trips to SCPKU. I am also very interested in organizing an SCPKU graduate seminar for the near future.

Q: Describe some highlights of your stay in China/SCPKU. 

Aside from meeting with my PKU contacts to further my research, I enjoyed participating in (both as an observer and teaching a lecture) Dr. Stafford’s graduate seminar on chronic diseases in China. I made many new connections in the Beijing science community and will host a visiting student in early 2016.  I also attended an SCPKU-hosted happy hour which included a Chinese rice wine tasting and musical performance on a Chinese zither or “guzheng.”


Q: List at least THREE words or thoughts that come to mind which best describe your experience at SCPKU. 

Adventure, exploration, collaboration.

Q: Any future plans in China? 

I plan to use the remaining funds from my SCPKU fellowship in the fall, and continue interaction with faculty at PKU and SCPKU.


Photo courtesy of Stanford University