Wang received the award May 21 at the Alltech International Symposium in Lexington, Ky.
“Modern medicine has come to the realization that diseases are best treated at their inception, not when symptoms appear; Dr. Wang’s work in the area is tremendous,” said Pearse Lyons, PhD, president and founder of Alltech, a multinational animal health company based in Lexington. “We are honored to offer the Medal of Excellence Award to someone whose many years of research in understanding the role of microRNA has contributed to creating a world with fewer diseases in the next decades.”
Wang’s research focuses on investigating the genetic mechanisms that may cause predisposition to infectious diseases, using microarray technology, proteomic profiling and several other technologies known as high-throughput enabling platforms. These are used to study the genetic factors controlling how people respond to environmental exposures and the molecular mechanisms of wound healing, including response to microgravity and radiation. Her work has applications for understanding the molecular mechanisms that influence the aging process and age-dependent diseases.
Wang’s long-term study of the role of microRNAs as molecular “switches” in aging and age-dependent diseases has led to diagnostic breakthroughs in challenging areas such as Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias and heart disease. They hold potential for the creation of diagnostic tests that could enable family physicians to simply take a drop of blood from a finger prick and determine if the patient is progressing towards, or is predisposed to, a potentially fatal disease.
Another aspect of Wang’s work stems from her realization that all diagnostic tests are not created equal; what works for Western populations may not work for Asiatic populations, for example. She is exploring the tailoring of diagnostic tests based upon the genetic factors that are unique to global sub-populations.
The Alltech Medal of Excellence is awarded each year during the opening session of Alltech’s International Symposium. Previous winners include former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown for his work in transforming the global food industry; Inge Russell, PhD, whose research has resulted in significant improvements in the production of feed, food, beverages and fuel; David Byrne, PhD, for his pioneering work in the area of food safety during his tenure as European Union Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection; and Jim Pettigrew, PhD, for his work to address the challenges of feeding the growing human population.
About Eugenia Wang
Wang decided to become a scientist when she was a 12-year-old girl living with her family in Taiwan. In order to free her mother from the long hours of cooking every day, she was determined to create what she called “breakfast, lunch and supper pills,” similar to what NASA astronauts were using to feed themselves in space.
After finishing high school in Taipei, Wang wanted to study physics, but she was assigned to entomology, a field she had never considered, at National Taiwan University. She dreamt about immigrating to the United States, she said, and, for that, she started learning English by listening to the Voice of America radio news and memorizing the English words from a dictionary.
Wang graduated in entomology from in 1966 and then received a master’s degree in entomology at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. In 1969, she went on to PhD studies in cell biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. At Rockefeller University, she became the first female assistant professor in Virology in 1978, initially studying cytoskeletal proteins in virus-infected cells.
She moved to Louisville, her husband’s hometown, in 2000 after serving as professor of anatomy, medicine, & neurology and the director of Bloomfield Center on Aging at McGill University from 1987. She is professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and director of the Gheens Center on Aging, established in the UofL School of Medicine with a $2.5 million gift from the Gheens Foundation.