Dr. Jiang He was selected among the 2017 line-up for STAT Wunderkinds. Jiang is studying this vital organ and how the malaria parasite thrives in it to look for drugs that can stop the disease from taking hold. He’s found a few gene variations that might impact liver function, and is investigating how they affect susceptibility to a disease that infects up to 600 million people per year.
Jiang grew up in a small village in the Hunan province of China. The son of two rice farmers was enchanted early by the role of medicine in health. Before embarking on a career in research, he spent a winter break from college trying to educate villagers along Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province on how to stop the spread of bird flu. It was 2006, at the height of the epidemic.
“Some of the farmers, around that time, they were not aware of the dangers of the virus,” he said. “They sometimes will kill the sick animal and then eat the meat.” At the Bhatia lab, he’s learned that malaria is wily. Different strains attack the body in different ways, meaning that discoveries about the parasite often end up being strain-specific, rather than to the disease in general.
“There are a lot of surprises,” he told STAT. “That really makes the … whole process of eradicating malaria way more challenging.”
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