Never forget that humility is the mark of greatness
Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment.

Ying Kai Chan

Ying Kai Chan, Research Fellow, George Church Lab, Harvard University

Ying Kai Chan has only been a Research Fellow in George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School since January 2016, and he’s already making waves in the genomics community. After completing his PhD in Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard in 2015, which involved engineering a form of dengue virus that is detectable by the immune system, he moved to Church’s lab to improve the safety of delivery methods of gene therapies.

It’s been his work in this area that has led to him being named one of the 2017 STAT Wunderkinds!

What are you working on right now?

I am developing technologies to improve the safety and efficacy of adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors, which are used for gene therapy. This work was motivated by several gene therapy trials in which a subset of patients saw liver enzyme spikes after treatment, suggesting that the immune system was destroying transduced hepatocytes. These observations led to the use of immunosuppressive corticosteroids, which can have many side effects, especially in kids. It would be great if we could develop gene therapy vectors that are immunologically “silent” and more efficacious. It would be much better for patients if corticosteroids were not required.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?

Small animal models that are commonly used to test gene therapy do not recapitulate many aspects of human gene therapy. For example, the liver enzyme spikes seen in clinical trials did not happen in the mice or non-human primates that scientists used to test their gene therapies before the human trials. Not having a robust animal model is an issue for many fields, ranging from cancer to infectious disease.

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.

I would be very excited if George Church could bring back the woolly mammoth and I could help raise the baby mammoth!

What are you most proud of in your career?

I love being a molecular engineer – tweaking and designing viruses for beneficial outcomes.

Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?

I would invite Max Theiler, who received the Nobel for developing a live attenuated vaccine for Yellow Fever virus. While Yellow Fever virus is no longer a major problem, it is related to Zika virus and dengue virus, which are significant mosquito-borne pathogens causing frequent outbreaks. I am personally passionate about these diseases because they are a pressing issue in Singapore where I am originally from. I would ask Max Theiler for advice on how to make better vaccines over wine.

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

Many accepted paradigms in biology are not completely accurate, or they might even be completely wrong.

 

Opinions and views expressed in The Short Read are the interviewee’s and not those of the home institution


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Who would you like to see interviewed for The Short Read? Let us know via contact@frontlinegenomics.com