MEET OUR RESEARCHERS – WEI TONG
Meet Wei Tong
What brought you to MPN research?
During my postdoctoral years, I was drawn to understanding the fundamental signaling cascades that transmit information from growth factor receptors at the plasma membrane all the way to the nucleus where gene expression is controlled. My work focused on the regulation of the tyrosine kinase JAK2. Based on prior work it was already known that cytokines, their receptors and downstream effectors could all be potentially involved in cancer. In 2005, several landmark papers reported the discovery of a mutation in JAK2 (V617F) in MPNs. This led to a natural convergence of my interests in signaling with those in neoplastic disease. My interests in the MPN field were further stimulated by collaborations with leading scientists, including Drs. Gary Gilliland and Tony Green. Ever since I have been studying the signaling network surrounding JAK2 in normal blood development and MPNs.
What labs have you worked in?
I studied with Dr. Jeffrey Pollard at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine for my PhD degree. Subsequently, I joined Dr. Harvey Lodish’s laboratory at the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research at MIT for postdoctoral research.
How will your current research help MPN patients?
My research has identified new signaling molecules that impinge on JAK2 activity. Several of these in their own right might represent new therapeutic targets. Pharmacologic compounds that associate with these molecules may be used to modulate the JAK2 pathway when used alone or in combination with known JAK2 inhibitors that are in clinical trials already.
What role does MPNRF play in the progress of your research?
I felt greatly honored and encouraged by the New Investigator Award from MPNRF. This award not only provides monetary support for our research but also gives me an increased sense of mission and urgency. Moreover, it connects me with patients, clinicians, and physician scientists, and inspires me to think about how I can make a real difference in patients’ lives.
Let’s pretend it’s 50 years from now, and we’re looking back on this period of time. What are people going to say MPN researchers accomplished?
We are living in an era of phenomenal technical advances that were unthinkable only a few years ago. Many laboratories, including my own are employing some of these emerging technologies to gain a deeper understanding of MPNs, their classification, diagnosis, and treatment. I am optimistic that in half a century from now, looking back, current advances will have been translated into therapies that improve the survival and quality of life of MPN patients.
What obstacles do researchers face in pursuing their research goals?
A main problem afflicting virtually all fields including MPN research relates to the current limitations in federal research funding. Not only does this impair progress in biomedical research, but it also discourages talented young scientists to seek careers as researchers in biomedicine. The reduced influx of new scientists bears consequences that will be felt many years from now. This makes support by private foundations such as the MPNRF all the more important.
What is your favorite non-medical book?
When balancing my career with my responsibilities as a parent there is not a whole lot of time left for leisure reading, especially when facing mountains of scientific literature. However, among my all time favorite non-medical books are those written by the incomparable Richard Feynman.
What do you like to do when not working in the lab?
Most of my non-working time is spent with my children and family. I also enjoy running and exercising. In the evenings I like to relax reading news or watching Jon Stewart.