#30DaysofTeal: Day 27

Meet a Researcher: We had the chance to interview Dr. Hui Shen, a 2016 Liz Tilberis Early Career Award grantee to get to know her! Read our interview here.

OCRFA: Tell us about yourself.
Dr. Hui Shen: My name is Hui Shen. I am originally from China, and had lived in Hong Kong and Los Angeles before calling Michigan home. In terms of hobbies I love painting, cooking and a little gardening. After the baby was born (his name is Jamie) I turned into one of those crazy baby-maniac parents taking pictures and videos of him all day. I am currently an assistant professor at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I am a cancer researcher that focuses on a specific field called epigenetics.

OCRFA: Did you always want to be a scientist?
Dr. Hui Shen: Yes but different kinds of scientists. When I was very little I wanted to become a mathematician. In high school I discovered a strong interest in biology and chemistry. My research today also, to some extent, reflects both of these interests – I work on understanding biological questions, with computational approaches.

OCRFA: What motivated you to focus on ovarian cancer?
Dr. Hui Shen: It was scientific curiosity in the first place. When I started my graduate studies, my first two projects happened to be on ovarian cancer. For every discovery that we made, there were ten questions that immediately surfaced, and I worked to understand more questions. The more I get to know about this nasty disease, the more rewarding it is when I find something that I think might eventually help the patients. It has become personal during these years too – I came to know people with ovarian cancer themselves, those with loved ones affected by ovarian cancer, or those who are distressed about the prospect of developing the disease because of their family history of ovarian cancer. That is what motivates me now.

OCRFA: Tell me about your OCRFA funded research project.

Dr. Hui Shen: My project was to find out where different subtypes of ovarian cancer arise, and what some of the very earliest changes are, through the analysis of the ‘epigenome’ of various relevant normal cells and ovarian cancer cells. ‘Epigenome’ instructs how our genome, or DNA sequence code is read. It is how our bodies make different cell types (skin, neurons etc) with the same set of genetic code that we inherit from our parents. It can act as a fossil, telling us what the cells have gone through. We are taking advantage of that to understand the very origin of the disease. It is our hope that results from this project would help us devise better early intervention and detection methods.

OCRFA: What do you like best about your job?
Dr. Hui Shen: The intellectual freedom, and the feeling that we are doing something meaningful.