Research

Meet Our Researchers

Janette Berkley-Patton, M.A., Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Education

B.S. - Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Kansas
M.A. - Human Development and Family Life, University of Kansas
Ph.D. - Child and Developmental Psychology, University of Kansas

Research Focus

Using community-based participatory research methods, Berkley-Patton focuses on health education, prevention, screening, and care support in African American churches and Jamaica.


Meet Janette Berkley-Patton
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Your mother is from Jamaica. Did you ever visit Jamaica while growing up?

My mom immigrated from Jamaica, but we went there as kids about every summer. I kind of grew up in a little of both cultures. We would visit my family's homestead in the countryside. They had no running water, no electricity. Everything that you ate was off the land. That was very different from growing up in the inner city. It was a very, very different experience.

Why did you change careers from electrical engineer to behavioral psychology and research?

I so enjoyed the time I was spending on the weekends doing community service, working with adolescents, adolescent development and youth programs and tutoring and doing those kinds of things. I thought, this would be a great time in my life to go back to school and do something that I really feel called to do.

What do you enjoy about the research you do now?

I love what I do because it's in the very community I grew up in, particularly a faith-based setting. Growing up in inner-city Kansas City for the most part, if you were in an African-American family, then you must go to church on Sunday; you must go to Sunday school. That ability to have a positive impact on the community that I grew up in is really fulfilling to me.

Betty M. Drees, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.E.

Professor, Dean Emerita, Program Director - Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism Fellowship, President - Stowers Institute for Medical Research Graduate Program
816-218-2581

Education

M.D. - University of Kansas
Residency - Internal Medicine - University of Kansas Medical Center
Fellowship - Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism - University of Kansas Medical Center

Research Focus

Endocrinology, including calcium disorders and diabetes prevention

Drees currently leads a study on community interventions to prevent type 2 diabetes mellitus, titled “Reducing the Burden of Diabetes in the KC Area: Accelerating Innovation Through Collaboration.”


Meet Betty M. Drees
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How did you get started in research?

I have always been interested in endocrinology because it’s applied physiology—systems with feedback loops, very logical. I also wanted the variety a career in academic medicine provides: You get to care for patients, teach and do research. After my fellowship in endocrinology I went into the Veterans Administration’s career development program, which funded physicians starting research careers and provided mentors for me.

What do find rewarding in your work?

Affecting people’s lives in positive ways is always rewarding. My current work on diabetes in the community promotes disease prevention and the connection between clinical medicine and community resources. And I always enjoy working with students, residents, fellows and junior faculty. It’s rewarding to see them develop their careers and grow professionally. I’m proud of establishing the bioinformatics program and the research infrastructure it provides for the whole school.

What do you enjoy outside of your research?

My pleasures are quiet pleasures, including the outdoors and travel to our national parks. I was in the Teton Mountains for last year’s solar eclipse. Family is very important to me; my husband and I have three grown children. And I’m always reading and learning new things. I read widely, including science and technology, history and fiction, to learn about other cultures and to see what forces brought us to current situations. I recently read a string of Russian novels, some of them classics, some contemporary authors. And “Genghis Khan and the Search for God,” “Salt: A World History,” “Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter,” “Incarnations: A History of India in 50 Lives,” “Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America,” to learn about American post-Civil War history. I like to keep learning.

John Foxworth, Pharm.D.

Professor, Associate Dean - Faculty Development, Director of Research, Associate Program Director of Research - Internal Medicine Residency, Member American College of Clinical Pharmacology and American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Member and UMKC SOM Councilor - AOA (Alpha Omega Alpha)
816-235-1925

Education

Pharm.D. - University of Missouri - Kansas City
Residency - Kansas City General Hospital and Medical Center (teaching pharmacology to medical residents and medical students in the SOM and at TMC)

Research Focus

Evidence-based medicine

Foxworth works with students and residents teaching research methodology, biostatistics and evidence-based medicine.


Meet John Foxworth
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What do you enjoy about research and helping others with research projects?

I like biostatistics and measuring things. And I enjoy helping students and residents learn to read scientific articles well. That’s what the Medical Decision Making course is all about. I look at critical analysis of medical literature as working a puzzle. I also enjoy helping people set up research projects and write posters. It’s fun and interesting.

What kind of puzzles do you like?

I work crossword puzzles regularly, the New York Times, especially. Twenty-five years ago, when I started doing crosswords, I had trouble getting very many words at all. But if you persist, you improve. I could barely do the Kansas City Star crossword puzzle back when I first started – and that is considered easy. Now I can work those five minutes. And almost every week, you’ll find me working the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. That one takes a while, usually a few hours.

What other hobbies do you have.

I like music a lot. I enjoy dogs; I’ve always had dogs. I also enjoy woodworking. And I watch a lot of movies, usually going the movie theater about once a week, sometimes more. So, I have several hobbies and things that I like to do outside of work.

Emily A. Hillman, M.D.

Assistant Professor, Medical Director Simulation - UMKC Clinical Training Facility, Assistant Program Director, Student Clerkship Director

Education

M.D. - University of Missouri - Kansas CIty
Residency - Emergency Medicine - University of Missouri - Kansas City / Truman Medical Center
ABEM Diplomate - 2012

Research Focus

Education Research

Taking simulation activities into scholarship learning, Hillman’s research explores the best ways to teach and assess learners in clinical, classroom and simulation settings.


Meet Emily A. Hillman
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What do enjoy doing outside of your busy schedule as a physician, teacher and researcher?

I’ve always been into physical fitness. I have three little girls now who are age three and under. That in itself is a workout that I had no idea was so intense, but I love spending time with my girls and my husband.

How did you stay physically fit before children?

I used to be a fitness competitor and a body builder. One time, I won the award for “best pose.” I also am a past winner of the Miss Kansas Body Builder competition. Since I’ve had children, I’ve gotten out of competition, but I still enjoy being fit.

Do you have other hobbies?

My husband and I like to go to the movies. I’m into 80’s movies – “Dirty Dancing” is my favorite. I don’t know what it is about that movie, but I’ve watched it a lot. We also love music and going to concerts. We’ve seen Pink, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Madonna and Lady Gaga. Beach vacations are another favorite activity, and we’ve enjoyed trips to Jamaica, Barbados and Mexico. We also have visited Paris, Italy and Germany and were actually in Germany during the October Festival. That was fun.

Peter Koulen, Ph.D.

Professor, Felix and Carmen Sabates / Missouri Endowed Chair in Vision Research, Director of Basic Research, Vision Research Center
816-235-6773

Education

M.S. - Johannes Gutenberg University
Ph.D. - Max Planck Institute
Ph.D. - Yale University

Research Focus

Therapy development for chronic diseases of the eye and brain.

An internationally recognized expert in biophysics, biochemistry and physiology of nerve cells, Koulen’s research has been funded since 2002 by national and international foundations and agencies. These include the NIH National Eye Institute, NIH National Institute on Aging  and the NIH National Cancer Institute.


Meet Peter Koulen
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What do you enjoy doing outside of regular work?

I like to give back. I volunteer helping a number of national agencies, trying to determine our next steps in eye research and issues like traumatic eye injury.

What other jobs have you had outside of your research career?

I made it through graduate school working as a scuba instructor. It was a nice combination of science and fun. I also worked as a chef’s assistant, cleaning vegetables and washing dishes in a restaurant right next to the Parliament building, Germany’s equivalent to the U.S. Congress. I met and interacted with some very interesting customers from all walks of life.

Where was the most exotic place you ever went scuba diving?

It was kind of a crazy decision to go there, but the most interesting place was scuba diving in the Red Sea during Gulf War 1. At the time, it was very cheap … and much more fun than waiting tables.

How did you get started doing research?

My life has been determined by role models. Studying chemistry and cell biology was determined by a very influential high school teacher. In college, I started to get bored with these subjects when, luckily, I ran into someone who was a leader in retina research. He became my mentor for my master’s and Ph.D. projects.

Agostino Molteni, M.D., Ph.D.

Adjunct Professor, Professor - Pathology and Pharmacology, Director of Student Research, Professor Emeritus - Northwestern University
816-235-5604

Education

M.D. - University of Milano
Ph.D. - State University of New York, Buffalo
Fellowship - University of Milano
Fellowship - State University of New York, Buffalo

Research Focus

Ways hypertension develops, particularly pulmonary hypertension

Molteni’s research often involves NEFAs — non-esterified fatty acids — and their role in high blood pressure. His studies have supported treatment for mild hypertension and looked at hypertension risks related to other medical conditions. He continues to do research while teaching and overseeing student research at the School of Medicine.


Meet Agostino Molteni
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How did you get started in research?

I became curious about hypertension while in residency at the University of Milano in 1957, where I observed incidences of hypertension in relation to the different diets of Italy’s various regions. A research fellowship brought me to the United States and the State University of New York, Buffalo. My work there and then at Northwestern University has looked at high blood pressure among many populations, including burn victims, diabetics, and mothers in pre-term births. It is a fascinating area, and I never tire of exploring it.

How did you end up at UMKC?

My wife and I had lived in the area in the 1970s. I was at KU Medical Center and she was on the UMKC faculty. We then moved to Chicago and were involved in academic research there for many years. At retirement age those tenured appointments expired, so we moved back to Kansas City to be close to our two sons and their families. But we found that we could not just stay at home: Too boring. So Dr. Richardson Noback, the dean of the School of Medicine, helped me find a research position at UMKC.

What do you enjoy outside of your research?

I study history, especially the history of various civilizations, and Latin literature. I spend time with my children and mentor my five granddaughters in how to think critically, ask questions and extend their knowledge beyond their college or high school programs. I like to travel and visit other universities. And I also like to watch soccer, especially Sporting KC.

Paula Monaghan-Nichols, Ph.D.

Professor, Associate Dean - Research Administration, Chair - Biomedical Sciences
816-235-6663

Education

BA - Genetics - Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
Ph.D. - Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology - Medical Research Council, Edinburgh, Scotland
Fellowship - Molecular Genetics and Development - Medical Research Council, Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh, Scotland

Research Focus

Prenatal basis of neurological and behavioral abnormalities

Since 1999, Nichols has maintained continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health for her research, which currently involves studying environmental and genetic factors’ influence on cell behavior. She also promotes others’ research in her role as associate dean.


Meet Paula Monaghan-Nichols
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How do you foster research among others?

I have been a research mentor for many years - a role I much enjoy. At the School of Medicine, I foster research by guiding our researchers as they launch projects, from framing ideas and identifying possible collaborators, to finding the best funding mechanisms, to writing highly competitive applications. To better connect students and researchers, I worked with the nursing school's associate dean of research, Mark Nichols - who happens to be my husband - to launch a lecture series highlighting research in the UMKC Health Sciences District. And to encourage learners' interest in research, I helped create coursework for all third-year students so they gain experience early in their studies.

What are you researching currently?

Much of my past work has involved brain and nervous system development, and now I am studying neurological abnormalities that occur in people whose mothers received steroids when they were at risk for pre-term birth. These abnormalities might not present until years later, in conditions such as behavioral or emotional problems, but we now have data that could link these health issues to the use of steroids or other pre-birth agents. Such links could lead to the development of other treatments for pregnant women, reducing or preventing such abnormalities.

What do you enjoy doing away from work?

As parents of two high school daughters and a son in middle school, my husband and I enjoy supporting their many activities and interests - which keeps us busy. And as newer residents to the area, we enjoy discovering Kansas City's cultural offerings, from ballet and classical music to theater to museums.

Kim Smolderen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor - Implementation Science, Outcomes Research Scientist
816-235-1618

Education

B.S. - Charlemagne College
B.S., M.S., Ph.D. - Tilburg University
Fellowship - Tilburg University
Fellowship - Saint Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute

Research Focus

Cardiac outcomes, with emphasis on peripheral arterial disease

Since completing her doctorate, Smolderen has received continuous funding for an international research consortium studying peripheral arterial disease, which involves blockages that cause excruciating pain when walking. The condition afflicts 8 million U.S. heart patients and is associated with high rates of heart attacks and premature death.


Meet Kim Smolderen
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How did a Belgian with a bachelor's degree in social work end up as a researcher at UMKC?

While studying social work, I had an internship at a hospital and became fascinated by what had caused patients to be admitted. I wanted to know more about their choices and life conditions, and how those were affecting their health, treatment and recovery. That fascination continued through graduation, when a research opportunity presented itself. So I switched gears to study medical psychology. And instead of practicing as a medical psychologist, I pursued a Ph.D. doing research on the role psychological conditions play in peripheral arterial disease.

And how did you end up in Kansas City?

I needed a good questionnaire for my Ph.D. research and learned of Dr. John Spertus and his Kansas City-based research group, known worldwide for developing patient questionnaires. They had one for gathering information on cardiac patients' psychology and life conditions, and measuring patient outcomes, and he allowed me to use it. After meeting him in person at an American Heart Association conference where I presented my findings, I had the opportunity to work with his group through two grant-funded internships in Kansas City. When I applied for and was offered a faculty position at UMKC, I decided to stay.

What do you enjoy outside of your research?

I enjoy traveling with my husband, who also is Belgian. We especially like visiting the south of Spain and France. We also keep in touch with our Belgian heritage through food, music and literature - and make it an important part of raising our two small children.

John A. Spertus, M.D., M.P.H.

Professor, Daniel J. Lauer / Missouri Endowed Chair in Metabolic and Vascular Disease Research, Clinical Director
816-932-8270

Education

M.D. - University of California San Francisco
Residency - University of Washington
Residency - Seattle Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Fellowship - University of Washington

Research Focus

Improvement of patient care and practice.

To deliver individualized health care at the lowest possible risk and cost, Spertus uses bioinformatics to match big data from millions of patients’ outcomes with specific data from each patient, in an effort to determine the treatment most likely to succeed for the patient at hand.


Meet John A. Spertus
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How did you get started in research?

I was interested in how we gather patient information that could actually improve patient outcomes while reducing risks and saving money. My research did that by rewriting informed consent forms that patients could actually understand, collecting useful information through them, and getting patients involved in decision making about their own care.

Why Kansas City and UMKC?

I came to Kansas City for a hospital job opportunity where I could pursue my research, which was unusual at the time. The hospital’s affiliation with the School of Medicine meant I could teach at UMKC, too. An added bonus in relocating here was having farm land nearby, allowing my wife (also a physician) to fulfill her dream to own a farm, raise a family there and create an organic food business.

What challenges and opportunities lie ahead?

It can be difficult to get systems or physicians to change the way things are done. But we have a real chance in Kansas City to make a difference. UMKC is one of the centers, along with Yale and Duke, working on the infrastructure to actually put this knowledge into practice. And personally, I’d like to shift toward less grant work and more work to build the infrastructure to change care in our community, collaborating with hospitals to essentially redesign health care delivery to maximize the benefits to patients and society.

Mark T. Steele, M.D.

Professor, Associate Dean - Truman Medical Center, Chief Medical and Operating Officer
816-404-5300

Education

M.D. - University of Missouri - Kansas City
Residency - Emergency Medicine - Truman Medical Center/University of Missouri - Kansas City
ABEM Diplomate - 1984/1994/2004

Research Focus

Infectious diseases relevant to the practice of emergency medicine

Steele is heavily involved in a nationwide network of top emergency departments that are researching infectious disease threats and testing innovative ways to deal with them. The School of Medicine/Truman Medical Centers is one of 11 founding research sites in the network.


Meet Mark T. Steele
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How did you get started in research?

As a junior faculty member, I was encouraged by Bill Robinson, M.D., the school’s chair of emergency medicine at the time. He introduced me to a group studying wound care and wound infections, which ultimately led to the formation of the EMERGEncy ID NET. This network, now more than 20 years old, was out front in identifying MRSA as a significant cause of some skin infections and helping physicians treat them. Personally, the network enabled me to participate in an NIH-sponsored project consisting of three separate research trials, and to publish the findings in three leading medical journals.

What do you enjoy doing away from work?

My wife and I enjoy travel, especially to warmer places during the winter, and we have a dog, Rosie, just 7 months old, who is really sweet and energetic. We also enjoy spending time with family. We have four kids, all in their mid-20s, including triplets.

Triplets? Did that present any particular challenges?

It was challenging at times. Shortly after adopting our first child in 1991, we learned that we were expecting triplets. So seven months later we had four little kids. I remember one family trip when they were 4 and 5, and I had to fly with them to meet my wife in Florida, who was returning from a cruise. Our first flight was delayed, so we missed our connection in St. Louis. I managed to get four tired and hungry kids to bed at 10 o’clock at an airport hotel, and then up again at 5 a.m. to catch our next flight. But all in all, it’s been great. Today, our two daughters are nurses, one of our sons is a police officer, and our other son works in finance and accounting.

Gary Sutkin, M.D., M.B.A.

Professor and Program Director, Associate Dean of Women's Health, Victor and Caroline Schutte Chair in Women’s Health
816-235-6785

Education

M.D. - Northwestern University
M.B.A. - J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management
Residency - Magee Womens Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA
Fellowship - Magee Womens Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA
Board Certification - American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Subspecialty Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery

Research Focus

Surgical safety and error prevention

Interested in how communication between attending and resident surgeons impact patient outcomes, Sutkin collaborates with a cognitive psychologist and members of the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering.


Meet Gary Sutkin
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As a family of big sports fans, what are your favorite teams?

As an alumnus, I'm a big Northwestern fan. And living in Pittsburgh for 10-plus years, my kids grew up cheering on the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins, who by the way, won the Stanley Cup. I know we should get to like the KC Chiefs, but I was raised, you know, loyal to your team. So, in our house, it's Northwestern for college sports and Pittsburgh teams for everything else.

What do you enjoy doing away from work?

Everyone in the family likes roller coasters, especially Pittsburgh's famous wooden coaster called the Jackrabbit. And my wife and I like music a lot. There's no type that we don't like - we download, listen and talk about music. Pre-kids, we went to lots of concerts. Now, we look forward the kids getting older so we can stay up later and go to concerts again.

How did you become interested in doing research?

Picture that kid who would stay after school, meet with the teacher, spend extra time doing dissection and lab experiments - that kid was me. I loved science and would do anything to spend more time doing it. As a kid reading science textbooks and learning about great experiments, part of me said "I want to be a part of that process." And now, I'm at UMKC, which really promotes cutting edge research. It's such a great place to be.

A cut above:

What I love to do most outside of work is spend time with my wife and our two boys, who envision one day when cool lasers will be used in the OR to keep surgeons from making errors. I also am an avid music listener.

Needle unprotected:

My pet peeve is loud noises, like the garbage cart that rolls right by our lab door every morning.

Slice of life:

The most interesting thing about me you may not know is.. I once had the kitchen staff in a restaurant throw an egg at our table for staying too late.

Michael Wacker, Ph.D.

Associate Teaching Professor, Associate Dean - Academic Affairs, Vice-chair - Biomedical Science
816-235-6069

Education

B.S. - Texas Christian University
Ph.D. - University of Kansas
Fellowship - University of Kansas

Research Focus

Exploring the mechanisms for cardiovascular disease suffered by kidney disease patients.

Most patients with kidney disease actually die of cardiovascular disease, Wacker says, so his lab is trying to figure out which chemical agents in kidney disease patients could be affecting cardiac muscle or blood vessel function in ways that can lead to heart disease.


Meet Michael Wacker
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What excites you about your work?

I enjoy the problem solving and the challenge of trying to understand the mechanisms behind human health and disease. You are trying to figure out something that is unknown and has never been put in any textbook. I also enjoy mentoring students in research and watching their interest and excitement grow.

What led you to focus on research?

As an undergraduate, a gifted genetics professor involved me in research on the effects of space radiation on mutation rates in worms sent up on the space shuttle. The same semester I also served as a biology teaching assistant. Having discovered an interest in both research and teaching, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. I was passionate about physiology, so my graduate work started with a neurophysiology research project with another great mentor. We discovered that the agent we were looking at also induced abnormal heartbeats. That turned my interest toward cardiovascular physiology. Now I am investigating the interaction between heart disease and kidney disease.

What do you enjoy outside of work time?

Besides spending time with family and friends, I play softball and basketball and enjoy hitting the golf course. I also coach a youth basketball team and have been known to play on a UMKC intramural team or two. I always joked that I got into academia to prolong my intramural sports career. I just didn't know it would be this long.

John Q. Wang, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor, Westport Anesthesia / Missouri Endowed Chair for Research
816-235-1907

Education

M.D. - Tongi Medical University, China
M.S. - Tongi Medical University, China
Ph.D. - Shanghai Medical University, China
Fellowship - Beijing Medical University, China
Fellowship - Medical College of Wisconsin

Research Focus

Drug abuse and addiction

Supported by National Institutes of Health grants, Wang leads a research team that studies, analyzes and clarifies the brain mechanisms underlying drug addiction.


Meet John Q. Wang
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What do you like about living in Kansas City?

I grew up in Wuhan, a city located in the center of China, much like where Kansas City is in the United States. I often wonder whether I can dig a hole through the earth from my backyard here and emerge in Wuhan. Both places enjoy each of the four seasons, which gives me the feeling of the home and reminds me how similar these two cities are.

How did you get started doing research?

I am interested in the brain and how it works. I feel that the brain is a fantastic world, and I wonder how the abnormal activity of the brain leads to mental illnesses. I am especially interested in the rewarding system of the brain. Drug addiction, which is the focus on my research, is related to that rewards system.

What research challenges and opportunities do you see in the future?

While it is a challenge to translate experimental results of basic science to clinical treatments, I personally feel we have a good chance to do so at UMKC. We are working to take advantage of our recent progress in lab research to develop new treatments for some psychiatric disorders, and know our success will require basic and clinical scientists working together.

Shui Qing Ye, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor, William R. Brown / Missouri Endowed Chair in Genetics and Molecular Medicine
816-983-6500

Education

M.D. - Wuhan (China) University School of Medicine
Ph.D. - University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine

Research Focus

Gene sequencing for human diseases

Using gene sequencing and big data sets, Ye’s research focuses on diagnostic biomarkers and new therapeutic targets for complex human diseases.


Meet Shui Qing Ye
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What do you do to relax from work?

I used to be an avid tennis player on the amateur level. Now for fun, I play table tennis, along with my wife. While we've never competed professionally, my wife and I are considered very good players. We once played in a tournament on a cruise ship with 4,000 people, and no one beat us. It runs in the family: my daughter played on the school table tennis team at Johns Hopkins University.

What other hobbies or outside interests do you have?

We like to travel. We've taken a cruise to a number places - Europe, Alaska, western Caribbean, The Bahamas. We'd like to do a Mediterranean tour, and there are still a lot of places we hope to go, like Australia and New Zealand. And while we cruised from Seattle along the coast line to Alaska, we'd like to go back to there for a vacation.

How did you become interested in doing research?

I graduated from medical school in China. After graduation I wanted to be a clinical doctor and treat patients directly. At that time, the leadership at the school thought I would be an excellent teacher so they assigned me to be a teacher in biochemistry at my alma mater. While I was teaching, I followed my department chair who was doing research and that's how I started doing research.