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February 2010 Issue

Ming-Tsung Lee came to the United States from Hong Kong to study hormonal carcinogenesis in the lab of Shuk-Mei Ho, PhD. He recently won a $187,200 grant to support his research investigations at UC.
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Student Makes Overseas Move to Study Under 'Famous' Environmental Health Researcher

By Amanda Harper
Published February 2010

For Ming-Tsung Lee, the UC College of Medicine—specifically the laboratory of environmental health chair Shuk-Mei Ho, PhD—was the ultimate destination to pursue his doctoral education.

The 27-year-old student from Hong Kong says he came to the United States to pursue the opportunity to work with an internationally recognized leader in hormonal carcinogenesis, an area Lee has strong interest in investigating as a professional researcher.

“Dr. Ho is famous in her field and is a successful mentor for junior scientists, so I am happy to be working in her lab.

“I know she will provide me with great training and an opportunity to establish a vast network of collaborators in PhD studies focused on a field I’m interested in,” explains Lee, who began working as a laboratory technician in Ho’s lab in September 2007.

He is pursuing a doctoral degree in environmental genetics and molecular toxicology, which he expects to complete by 2011, and currently holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in molecular biotechnology and biology, respectively, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Lee recently received a competitive predoctoral research grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to pursue a basic science research study of the molecular actions behind estrogen-independent breast cancers.

The novelty and clinical relevancy of his proposed work, together with the availability of strong faculty mentorship from both Ho and Ricky (Yuet-kin) Leung, PhD, in environmental health, as well as Susan Waltz, PhD, and Shao-Chun Wang, PhD, of the cancer and cell biology department, was key in Lee’s selection for the grant.
The grant totals $187,200 and pays for tuition and general fees for three years.

Previous studies from Ho and others have shown that estrogen receptor beta regulates tumor progression. Lee’s preliminary findings suggest that the interaction

between a relatively new isoform of estrogen receptor beta and a new member of the Bcl-2 family may hold promise as a new target in the treatment of estrogen-independent breast cancers, for which there are currently no successful therapies.

“We recently used a protein interaction assay to discover this unique interaction and examine its role in breast cancer progression. Our preliminary findings first reported that this protein-protein interaction functions in programmed cell death (apoptosis),” explains Lee.

“With this information, we hope to determine whether the interaction between these two proteins is responsible for controlling how aggressive a breast cancer is.”

Lee will use novel molecular and cellular biology techniques to further his research with the hope that this information could be valuable for developing new prognostic markers for breast cancer and guiding targeted drug therapies.

UC’s environmental health department is ranked fourth among National Institutes of Health-funded environmental re-search programs. As of 2009, the department holds the largest portfolio of sponsored program funding at the College of Medicine, topping $19.5 million.

The department includes more than 100 full-time and adjunct/secondary faculty and more than 150 master’s and doctoral trainees.

Many of the department’s faculty are members of the Cincinnati Cancer Consortium, a joint cancer program involving the UC College of Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UC Health University Hospital. The collaborative initiative brings together interdisciplinary research teams of caring scientists and health professionals to research and develop new cures, while providing a continuum of care for children, adults and families with cancer.

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