[LEXINGTON, Ky] – Alltech has awarded the 2013 Alltech Medal of Excellence to researcher Dr. Eugenia Wang of the University of Louisville for her pioneering work in using high-throughput technologies to explore the molecular signatures of Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias and heart disease.
“It has been a great honor for me to receive this prestigious award from Alltech,” said Wang, Gheens endowed chair at UofL and CEO and founder of Advanced Genomic Technology LLC.
Wang decided to become a scientist when she was a 12-year-old girl living with her family in Taiwan. In order to free her mother from the long hours of cooking every day, she was desperate to create what she called breakfast, lunch and supper pills, similar to what NASA astronauts were using to feed themselves in the space. After finishing high school in Taipei, Wang wanted to study physics, but she got assigned to entomology, a field she had never considered, at National Taiwan University. She was dreaming about immigrating to the United States and, for that, she started learning English by listening to the Voice of America radio news and memorizing the English words from a dictionary.
Wang graduated in entomology from the National Taiwan University in 1966, then received a master’s degree in entomology at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. In 1969, she went on to Ph.D. studies in cell biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. At Rockefeller University, she became the first female assistant professor in 1978, initially studying cytoskeletal proteins in virus-infected cells. She moved to Louisville, her husband’s hometown, in 2000, and currently is the chair of aging research at the UofL’s Gheens Center and Aging, which focuses on the genomics and integrative biology of aging along with environmental influences that shape the process of growing old.
Wang’s research focuses on investigating the genetic mechanisms that may cause predisposition to infectious diseases, using microarray technology, proteomic profiling and several other high-throughput enabling platforms to study the genetic factors controlling how people respond to environmental exposures and the molecular mechanisms of wound healing, including response to microgravity and radiation. Her work has applications for understanding the molecular mechanisms that influence the aging process and age-dependent diseases.
In particular, Wang’s long-term study of the role of microRNAs as molecular “switches” in aging and age-dependent diseases has led to diagnostic breakthroughs in challenging areas such as Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias and heart disease.
But how can this technology help the fight against these diseases? Just imagine having diagnostic tests that enable family physicians to simply take a drop of blood from a finger prick and determine if the patient is progressing towards, or is predisposed to, a potentially fatal disease.
Another exciting aspect of Wang’s work is that she realized all diagnostic tests are not created equal; what works for Western populations may not work for Asiatic populations, and so forth. She plans to tailor diagnostic tests, based upon genetic polymorphisms unique to global sub-populations.
“Modern medicine has come to the realization that diseases are best treated at their inception, not when symptoms appear. Dr. Wang’s work in the area is tremendous,” said Dr. Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech. “We are honored to offer the Medal of Excellence Award to someone whose many years of research in understanding the role of microRNA has contributed to creating a world with fewer diseases in the next decades.”
The Alltech Medal of Excellence is awarded each year during the opening session of Alltech’s International Symposium. Previous winners of the Alltech Medal of Excellence include Gov. John Y. Brown, whose remarkable business acumen has changed the global food industry; Dr. Inge Russell, whose research has resulted in significant improvements in the production of feed, food, beverages and fuel; Dr. David Byrne, for his pioneering work in the area of food safety during his tenure as EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection; and Prof. Jim Pettigrew for his work to address the challenges of feeding an increasing human population.