By Season Ji
Cambridge, Mass., Dec. 19, 2016, — The Pew Charitable Trust recently named its annual list “37 Scientists Who Could Change the World”, among which there’s a Boston-based scholar, Omer Yilmaz. He is a young associate professor at MIT, focusing on cancer research. Prof. Yilmaz became famous for his latest research that was published on the academic journal Nature. After repeated experiments, he found why obese people are faced with higher risks of cancers: the stem cells are stimulated and a kind of protein that controls metabolism is activated.
Chia-wei Cheng(left) and Prof. Yilmaz at the lab. (photos by Season Ji).
At the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research in MIT, Yilmaz and his team fed mice on a high-fat and high-calorie diet for a year, and then examined the number and function of intestinal stem cells in their body. It is found that 60%-fat diet, not only makes mice overweight, but also activates a protein called PPAR-δ. The protein partly regulates metabolism, and is able to stimulate the proliferation of intestinal stem cells. The same cells proliferation is also found after the mice being treated with a drug that activates PPAR-δ. Compared to other types of cells, stem cells (proliferation) are considered more likely to cause tumors.
Prof. Yilmaz checks the materials in a Haier freezer.
If the findings are also applicable to humans, it can be understood why obesity causes cancers. “For a long time, it is believed that obesity increases the risk of cancer,” says Prof. Yilmaz, “and we want to know the biological mechanisms behind it.” In the future, doctors may be able to refer to the PPAR-δ protein activity and determine if the patient has a tumor. Then there’s better opportunity to provide patients with early intervention and appropriate therapy.
When I visited the labs in the Koch Institute, I realized the new findings were collaborative work. Prof. Yilmaz’s colleagues and Chinese-made products in the labs simultaneously helped ensuring his academic success.
Chia-wei Cheng is a young post-doc researcher from Taiwan. After receiving her doctoral degree in South California University, Cheng joined the Koch Institute and helped Prof. Yilmaz with his researches. She has over 10 papers published in the top academic journals that are cited more than 500 times. Still in her 20s, Cheng has already made her name in the biology research field.
Another Chinese lady Xiuyun Hou is a lab manager at Koch. Hou oversees the administration and workflow, including personnel, animal, safety management, supplies and tissue culture. In other words, without her managing every details, the lab might probably be in a mess.
While the two Chinese ladies contribute their talents for the lab, there is also contribution from Chinese products, a Haier refrigerator and a freezer.
As a cancer pathologist, Prof. Yilmaz needs to extract, keep, and analyze a large number of biological cell samples. The cell culture media he uses daily is made of calf serum. He told me that it is very sensitive to the temperature and is supposed to be stored in a 4ºC environment. The Haier refrigerator used in the lab is an application of China’s patent technology, keeping the inner environment steady and protecting tissues and cells. Also, the tiny screen on the surface smartly monitors the temperature inside. Meanwhile, superconducting heat pipes can freeze cells rapidly and keep them complete, so that unnecessary interference to the experiments is avoided. In another storage room, a larger Haier freezer marked with a “-20ºC” label is used for storing massive sealed raw materials like calf serum, in order to prolong the validity.
Though these products are designed as household appliances, Yilmaz believes that they work as well as American professional devices. The designs (like the temperature monitor) and the sizes do live up to his expectations. Manager Xiuyun Hou also said that Haier products save energy, which coincides with the lab’s principle by being sustainable and environmentally friendly.
MIT is one of the leading academic institutions in the United States with numerous Chinese scientists and Chinese products. It is predictable that Chinese intelligence and Chinese products continue playing increasingly essential roles in the science technology progress.