Patrick Tso, PhD, has this "totally crazy idea."
What if it were possible to do a blood test on someone and determine from it where in the world they have been traveling?
And what if the clues to a person's journeys around the world would also explain why "yo-yo" dieting is so bad for the body?
This is what keeps Dr. Tso happy, and extraordinarily productive.
Honored with the Distinguished Research
Award from the American Physiological Society and internationally
recognized for his work in understanding cholesterol metabolism, Dr.
Tso is associate director of the Obesity Research Center at UC's Genome
Research Institute (GRI) and the leader of the lipid group.
Dr. Tso also is the director of the
Cincinnati Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center at the GRI. Funded by the
National Institutes of Health, this highly sophisticated core facility
is one of only three of its kind in the country--the others at
Vanderbilt and Yale universities.
When he's not thinking out of the
box--authoring or coauthoring more than 120 papers, 28 review articles
or book chapters and presenting 119 invited lectures--Dr. Tso is
inspiring the next generation of scientists with his "crazy ideas."
He's trained 25 pre- and post-doctoral fellows so far.
Dr. Tso gives a significant amount of lab
space to younger members of his team, and he also opens his lab during
the summer to undergraduate science students interested in lab work.
"I think it is very important to help young scientists succeed," says Dr. Tso.
A gastrointestinal physiologist by
training who studies how nutrients are digested, dissolved and
transported by the gut, Dr. Tso describes his own research interest as
three-fold--gastro-intestinal physiology, gut-brain inter-action (how
diet affects obesity) and cholesterol metabolism.
Shortly after he arrived at UC in 1996 to
join the Department of Pathology, he along with Stephen Woods, PhD, and
Randy Seeley, PhD, both of the Department of Psychiatry, formed the
Obesity Research Center. Now located at the GRI, the obesity research
group has grown to more than 50 people and has eight principal
Recently, Dr. Tso and colleague Ron
Jandacek, PhD, have become very interested in environmental toxins
known as "xenobiotics," which basically means "strange life forms."
These chemicals enter the body constantly through smoking, food and
even breathing and are stored in our fat tissue.
That's where the maybe-not-so-crazy idea comes in.
Since the nature of the toxins in our
body depends on the foods we eat and the air we breathe, "If you have
traveled to another country, would the nature of the toxins at that
place change the xenobiotics pattern in your body?" he asks.
"It could be kind of like a fingerprint--like an internal passport."
And since these toxins get stored in our
fat tissue, "When you burn fat, they are reintroduced to the blood
stream and the body doesn't necessarily handle them the same way
twice," he says.
"Could this be a major reason why ‘yo-yo' dieting is so bad for us?"
Dr. Tso plans to look a bit further into
this theory when some of his graduate students and laboratory
co-workers travel to China this year.
Although he is at a point in his career
where much of his time is spent outside the lab writing papers and
grants, Dr. Tso still loves hands-on research, and is looking forward
to his next sabbatical leave when he can get back to working at the lab
"I miss being in the lab," Dr. Tso says. "That's what I really love."
Dr. Tso is an educator who believes there
is no stupid question. He's researcher who isn't afraid to say he has a
"crazy" idea. And he's a humble colleague--so much so in fact that his
awards and honors are still in boxes lining the hallway outside his
One of those honors, a signed portrait of
President Ronald Reagan, is particularly important to Dr. Tso. Some
might think that's ironic considering he was once nearly deported back
to Hong Kong while he was working at the University of Tennessee during
President Reagan's administration.
Congressman Harold Ford and Senator
Howard Baker learned that one of the nation's best researchers might
actually be forced to leave and sponsored a bill to keep him in the