On April 2, 2014 Drs. Rudy Leibel and Robin Goland, Berrie Center Co-Directors, will moderate a Diabetes Research Panel at the University Club, a conversation between a panel of Berrie Center scientists, each working toward a cure for diabetes and an audience of patients with diabetes and their family and friends. In the weeks leading up to the event we will introduce the panelists and talk about their contribution to the science of diabetes.
Dr. Leibel has described Wendy Chung, MD, PhD, his former graduate student, as “a triple threat” - an equally gifted scientist, clinician, and teacher. She is a leading expert in the fields of clinical and molecular genetics and diabetes research.
Dr. Chung, Herbert Irving Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Columbia University (and seen as “the go-to person” campus-wide, on all things related to genetics) will bring to the 2014 Diabetes Research Panel her expertise in the genetics of diabetes.
“I think this is a topic that is near and dear to the hearts of many people, especially those with type 1 diabetes,” said Dr. Chung, a 2002 Berrie Scholar, who has been doing translational diabetes research at the Berrie Center for nearly a dozen years. “If there are others in your family, or if you are thinking of having children, you probably may be wondering about their risks of developing diabetes. This is the kind of thing I will be talking about and I look forward to answering questions about risks for diabetes in the family.”
Dr. Chung enjoys difficult questions. In addition to her research on the genetics of type 1 diabetes, she studies the genetics of obesity, congenital heart disease, various birth defects, autism, breast cancer and a host of other diseases. Once a week Dr. Chung, a pediatrician, sees patients of all ages for genetic consultations, often for problems that have been difficult to diagnose despite multiple other opinions.
“I love seeing patients. It keeps me grounded,” said the high energy and passionate molecular geneticist. “It is important for me to see what people are dealing with and what their very real needs and concerns are. It motivates me. It helps all the people in my lab to know that what we’re doing has a very real impact on very real people.”
Born and raised in south Florida, (and the first Miami-Dade County public high school student to win a prestigious Westinghouse Science Award, the predecessor to the Intel Science Award) Dr. Chung, 45, and the mother of two young boys, entered medical school the year scientists commenced the human genome project. She was a graduate student in Dr. Leibel's laboratory at Rockefeller University, working on cloning diabetes and obesity genes in mice. Dr. Leibel was recruited to Columbia University in 1997 and Dr. Chung was among the investigators in his laboratory that moved to Columbia with him.
“One of the career strategies I tell my students is to look for fields that are brand new, because it is easier to make the big contributions. In the beginning of my career, I was intrigued by the resources they were investing in the Human Genome Project,” she recalled. “Meanwhile, Rudy had this very audacious program to clone genes. At the time, it took a decade to clone those genes. But I thought, ‘Rudy’s got the right idea.’ So I became a clinical and molecular geneticist—and lucky for me, it was a good strategy and a good bet.”
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