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
Sometimes a passion for science runs in families. Dr. Yuying Liang, who grew up in Chengdu, one of China’s largest inland cities, grew to love science while growing up in a family of scientists.
The scientific sensibility—the love of discovery, the desire for experimentation, the appetite for studying and solving big problems—has been part of Liang ever since. Her parents worked at a local physics institute and encouraged her pursuits.
"I wanted be a scientist ever since I was little," Liang says. "I like discovering something new. I don't want a routine of doing the same thing every day. I like investigating what we don't know. When I was young, I liked to read the biographies of great scientists, especially women scientists, for inspiration."
Today, the associate professor serves on the faculty of the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and studies Lassa fever, a horrific West African illness caused by viral infections, with thousands of victims every year.
Liang’s interest in the disease was sparked at Emory University in Atlanta, where she researched and taught from 2004 to 2011, along with her husband, fellow CVM faculty member Dr. Hinh Ly.
The couple decided to take a dual appointment at the University of Minnesota in 2011. It was a difficult decision, but the University’s vast scope proved to be a big draw.
"The University of Minnesota is very comprehensive, and you can collaborate with professors and researchers in so many different disciplines," Liang says. "If you need to branch out into a new field, very likely there are faculty members who have been working on it for years."
Liang’s certainly done her due diligence in getting to where she is today. Prior to Emory, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, where she worked for three years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology with Dr. Don Ganem. Ganem now serves as the global head of infectious disease at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.
Before joining the University of California, Liang earned a PhD in genetics at the University of British Columbia, where she worked with Dr. Shirley Gillam, a rubella virologist. Liang’s PhD thesis, “Mechanistic Characterization of the Rubella Virus Nonstructural Proteins,” set her on the path toward her current research in viruses.
"The graduate program in Canada really helped me develop independent research capability and acquire critical thinking skills,” she says.
Liang also earned graduate and undergraduate degrees from the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Sichuan University.
“Those years laid the groundwork for my advanced studies, and it was then I decided biomedical science would be my chosen path,” she says.
Today, Liang’s research focus is Lassa fever, an acute hemorrhagic illness caused by a virus that is carried by rodents and transmitted to humans. It infects about 300,000 people annually in West Africa, killing about 5,000 of them each year. Hearing loss is a huge problem for survivors.
Through experimentation on cell culture and small rodents, Liang is studying the pathogenesis of the virus and its relatives that cause similar hemorrhagic fever. The eventual hope of researchers in the field is that their work will lead to a vaccine, antivirals, and the elimination of the deadly disease.
"For me, the best reward would be to develop a universal vaccine or effective treatment for these viruses," she said. “That’s the end goal.”
Liang and Ly are devoted parents of 10-year-old twin boys, who like books, music, sports, and games.
“We encourage them to develop a wide range of interests,” Liang said. “One reason we moved to the Twin Cities is because it’s a great place to raise a family.”