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November 2005 Issue

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Environmental Health Chair Has New Vision

Published November 2005

The first thing Shuk-mei Ho, PhD, did when she arrived at UC was knock down a few walls.

Those walls were physically separating three labs, but they symbolize a larger vision she has to take the Department of Environmental Health to the top.

"I believe a successful research department is driven by vibrant--almost palpable--energy that starts with the constant sharing of ideas," explains Dr. Ho, who was appointed chair of the department effective Oct. 1, 2005. "By eliminating the barriers between the experimental labs, we're not just opening the door to conversation among faculty. We're taking the first step toward putting the department's research on a new trajectory."

Her new direction involves a five-year plan to introduce a "systems biology" approach at all levels of research and teaching. The system will combine new technologies--such as the use of toxicogenomics, proteomics and metabolomics to identify biomarkers--and advanced environmental health medicine.

By adopting an energetic approach to research and teaching, she believes that through basic science and translational research the department will develop better ways to reduce injuries and diseases associated with negative environmental factors.

"Many of UC's environmental health researchers have already established reputations as national and international leaders," says Dr. Ho. "Now I want to work on modernizing our methods and equipment so we can secure future funding and reinvigorate departmental growth."

Dr. Ho says successful environmental health departments must do three things effectively: research the functional mechanisms of environmental health that will help others understand human health and disease, apply those findings to clinical practice to improve community health, and teach these principles to the next generation of environmental researchers.

"Dr. Ho has the vision necessary to elevate our existing research capabilities, improve student education opportunities and establish influential multidisciplinary research collaborations across our campus and with other academic institutions," says David Stern, MD, College of Medicine dean.

Dr. Ho joins UC from the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical School, where she served as professor of surgery, cell biology and physiology. She also held key leadership positions, including vice chair of research and director of both urologic research and translational research. She also served as co-director of the genitourinary oncology program at the UMass Cancer Center.

Prior to her work at UMass, Dr. Ho spent 13 years at Tufts University, where she was a professor of biology and then associate dean for research. She also had served as an assistant professor of biology at Boston University. Dr. Ho, who has published more than 121 scientific articles, completed both her doctoral and undergraduate training at the University of Hong Kong.

"If I'm going to do something, I want it to be something of significance," she says. "UC's Department of Environmental Health is one of the best in the nation, and this is an opportunity to turn a new page--a blank page waiting for our talented faculty to write something exciting."

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