Selina Chen-Kiang, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine, was recently awarded a $2.5 million Mantle Cell Lymphoma Research Initiative Award from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for her cutting-edge research on blood cancer.
How did you get interested in your field of research?
After completing my PhD in human genetics at Columbia, I asked my thesis advisor, Sid Udenfriend, how to proceed with my scientific career. He said, “It depends if you want to be a team player or you want to be a virtuosa.” I replied, “I only live once, I want to be a virtuosa.” So, his advice was to think of something new to do and just be fearless. I was trained in protein chemistry and enzymology, but I realized biology was my real interest.
After a postdoc in Jim Darnell’s lab at the Rockefeller University studying how gene expression was controlled, I started my own lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as a faculty member of Weill Cornell Medicine and reassessed my interests again. I realized that I was fascinated by the immune system; it is exquisitely controlled and I wanted to understand how it kept itself in balance, a concept known as homeostasis. When immune system homeostasis is lost and blood cells divide uncontrollably, you end up with leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma.