August 27, 1947|
Guangzhou, Kwangtung Province, China
|Institutions||University of California at San Diego, iTherX|
|Alma mater||University of California, Los Angeles (Ph.D., 1972)|
|Academic advisors||Robert Gallo|
|Known for||Cloning of HIV|
Flossie Wong-Staal (黃以靜 pinyin: Huáng Yǐ jìng, born August 27, 1947), born Yee Ching Wong, is a Chinese-American virologist and molecular biologist. She was the first scientist to clone HIV and determine the function of its genes, a major step in proving that HIV is the cause of AIDS. From 1990 to 2002, she held the Florence Riford Chair in AIDS Research at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). She was co-founder and, after retiring from UCSD, Chief Scientific Officer of Immusol, which was renamed iTherX Pharmaceuticals in 2007 when it transitioned to a drug development company focused on hepatitis C, and where she remains Chief Scientific Officer.
Childhood and early life
Born as Yee Ching Wong in China in 1947, Flossie Wong-Staal was among many Chinese citizens to flee to Hong Kong after the rise of Communism in the late 1940s. During her time living in Hong Kong, Wong-Staal attended an all female catholic school where she excelled above and beyond many of her classmates particularly in scientific subjects. Throughout her time at the Catholic school she was encouraged by many of her teachers to move to the United States to pursue a college degree there. Her teachers also encouraged her family to find an English name for Wong-Staal so that her transition to life in America would be easier. Her father chose the name Flossie for her after a massive storm that had struck their area around this time.
Once Flossie turned 18, she left Hong Kong in order to attend the University of California at Los Angeles where she would pursue a BS in bacteriology. Once she had earned her bachelor's degree, Wong-Staal would go on to earn a PhD in molecular biology from UCLA in 1972. Wong-Staal would continue her postdoc work at the University of California at San Diego, where she would continue to research.
In 1972, following the receipt of her PhD, Wong-Staal undertook postdoctoral research at UCSD. Her postdoctoral work continued under 1974, when she left to work for Robert Gallo at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). At the institute, Wong-Staal began her research into retroviruses.
In 1983, Wong-Staal, Gallo and her team of NCI scientists identified HIV as the cause of AIDS, simultaneously with Luc Montagnier. Two years later, Wong-Staal cloned HIV and then completed genetic mapping of the virus. The genetic mapping made it possible to develop HIV tests.
In 1990 a team of researchers led by Wong-Staal studied the effects that the Tat protein within the viral strain HIV-1 would have on the growth of cells found within Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions commonly found in AIDS patients. The team of researchers performed tests on a variety of cells that carried the tat protein and observed the rate of cell proliferation in cells infected by HIV-1 and the control, a culture of healthy human endothelial cells. Wong-Staal used a type of cellular analysis known as radioimmunoprecipitation in order to detect the presence of KS lesions in cells with varying amounts of the tat protein. The results of these tests showed that the amount of tat protein within a cell infected by HIV-1 is directly correlated to the amount of KS lesions a patient may have. These findings were essential in developing new treatments for HIV/AIDS patients who suffer from these dangerous lesions.
In 1990, Wong-Staal moved from NCI to UCSD. Wong-Staal continued her research into HIV and AIDS at UCSD. In 1994 she was named as chairman of UCSD's newly created Center for AIDS Research. In that same year, Wong-Staal was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academies.
In the 1990s, Wong-Staal's research focused on gene therapy, using a ribozyme "molecular knife" to repress HIV in stem cells. The protocol she developed was the second to be funded by the United States government.
In 2002, Wong-Staal retired from UCSD and now holds the title of Professor Emerita. She then joined Immusol, a biopharmaceutical company that she co-founded while she was at UCSD, as Chief Scientific Officer. Recognizing the need for improved drugs for hepatitis C (HCV), she transitioned Immusol to an HCV therapeutics focus and renamed it iTherX Pharmaceuticals to reflect this. That same year, Discover named Wong-Staal one of the fifty most extraordinary women scientists. Wong-Staal remains as a Research Professor of Medicine at UCSD.
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