Chasing discovery requires a personality driven to push through adversity. These individuals seek a deeper understanding to focus on the truly important and avoid distractions. We pay tribute to those who inspire us as they investigate our world with an unstoppable passion.
PEOPLE: THE HEART OF THE CVM
Dr. Hinh Ly’s life story reads like a classic American tale of an individual rising out of extreme poverty in a distant land who finds success in a country that continues to welcome his hard work and ambition.
The fourth son of parents of 11 children who lived in a rice farming area of the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam, Ly was born just a few years before the Vietnam War ended. He and his family escaped to Southern California, where Ly finished high school in three years and went on to graduate from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) in microbiology and molecular genetics.
As a first-generation college student, Ly says his family strongly urged him to become a physician. With no clear role model to follow either in his community or at the university, he forged his own path.
He shadowed doctors and nurses at community hospitals and clinics. He enrolled in the university’s summer pre-med program and ran an undergraduate Asian Pacific Islanders health club, which offered free blood sugar and blood pressure screenings in Asian communities. An opportunity to work in a laboratory and to tutor under-represented students led to a love of bench work and teaching—and Ly’s career in academia.
After his undergraduate and advanced degrees at UCLA and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he received his first academic appointment at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2011, Ly moved his laboratory to the University of Minnesota to serve as an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
The professor focuses his research on how pathogenic viruses such as Lassa virus hide from the immune system in order to cause complications that often lead to death in victims of the infection. Lassa virus primarily effects people who live in West Africa and has become endemic in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization. People living in nearby countries such as Benin, Ghana, and Mali also might have been exposed to this virus, which is carried by household rodents.
The disease is transferred to humans who encounter rodent urine or feces, generally from a rat species commonly found in West Africa. The virus has no impact on rats and results in no symptoms in most humans who are infected by it. For those who come down with the disease, however, the pain can be excruciating. Fever, weakness, nausea, vomiting, bleeding, and muscle and abdominal pain are among the symptoms. Some patients die in as few as two weeks.
Ly hopes his studies, which are supported by the National Institutes of Health, can bring about novel vaccines and treatments that allow patients to recover from this deadly illness. He’s begun to expand his research and currently leads several efforts to create new vaccines to protect turkeys from avian hemorrhagic, enteric, and arthritis viruses. These translational research efforts are currently being supported by the Minnesota Agricultural Experimental Station through its Rapid Agricultural Response Fund.
Ly has an important collaborator in his work, and it happens to be the woman with whom he shares his home and life—his wife, Dr. Yuying Liang, a fellow faculty member at the University. They met while working as postdoctoral fellows at the University of California in San Francisco. They work together on the Lassa fever research, a long-standing arrangement that began almost a decade ago.
“We started collaborating closely on the arenavirus and influenza virus-related projects when we both worked at Emory University,” he says. Now they are parents to active twin boys who are involved in sports. Ly plays tennis when he has time, mostly with his wife and children.
“I love the time I spend with my family, enjoying sports, the outdoors, and the seasons of Minnesota,” he says.