Profile of Chi-chung Hui
By: Brianna Bendici
Dr. Chi-chung Hui, PhD
- Former Head and Senior Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology
- Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I am originally from Hong Kong. I did my undergraduate degree and my master’s degree at The University of Hong Kong. Once I finished there, I moved to Japan for five years where I did my PhD at Nagoya University.
2. What are you researching right now?
I am currently researching several types of congenital heart disease, which are prevalent in both paediatric and adult populations. I have also been researching metabolic regulation and how it relates to diabetes and obesity. Over the last few years, we have been studying two important genes in human obesity and using mouse models to determine how these two genes function and regulate energy balance. The final area that I am currently researching is a brain tumour called medulloblastoma that is common among paediatrics. One specific type of this tumour, infant medulloblastoma, usually occurs in patients under three-year-old and it is very difficult to treat. We have been working with mouse models of infant medulloblastoma to try to understand what causes this specific type of brain tumor and to identify new therapies.
3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
Within the field of science there are many extraordinary individuals; however, I cannot pick one all-time favourite! There are many exceptional scientists but I believe that this field is one that requires a lot of collaboration and all scientists are inspired by each other, which makes it hard to pick only one!
4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
The discovery of molecular cloning in the 70s and 80s is one breakthrough that I consider very important as a molecular geneticist. This technique of being able to clone genes for molecular manipulation and functional characterization is critical to many advances in biomedical research in the past few decades. This major discovery is actually what attracted me to biology originally.
5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
In the past few years, I have really enjoyed learning about nutrition and healthy eating. I believe that nutritional and healthy foods are actually the most important factor affecting human health; even more important than genes! I really enjoy reading about nutrition and learning about different types of traditional cooking. My parents were both excellent in the kitchen and I believe that I have been influenced by them to eat well and to cook healthy foods!
6. Why science?
My teachers are the first ones who inspired me to pursue a scientific career. I was able to see how dedicated they were to science while I was a student which encouraged me to pursue a research career. And now, looking back on that almost 30 years later, I understand why I chose science and why it was the right choice for me. I always enjoyed being able to turn complex observations into simple concepts and being able to make sense of something that once didn’t seem to make sense. And now, knowing myself better than I did when I was first starting out, I would most definitely choose science again if I got to re-pick my career. It was definitely the right choice for me.
7. Why SickKids?
After I finished my post-doctoral fellowship, I joined SickKids and 2016 marks my 22nd year here! I chose to work here and love my job at SickKids because of the supportive, friendly and high standard of work that you find in the environment here. I am also very proud of my clinical scientists and colleagues because they are very passionate about caring for the children here and they are very dedicated to their work. It makes scientists like me who are doing basic research aware of major clinical questions and gives us a feeling of importance knowing our work is helping the children at SickKids.
8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
Right now, many scientists are focused on genome sequencing. It is a common thought that if you analyze the genetic constitution of individuals we will be able to uncover what determines one to have a disease or not. I believe that one’s genetic constitution is very important to understanding their health; however, what some scientists tend to overlook is environmental factors. If we only determine the genetic constitution of an individual, we cannot comprehend why someone gets sick or not. I think that, in order to be able to see the whole picture, we need to integrate the two sets of knowledge of one’s genetic constitution and the environmental factors they are exposed to.
9. What are you reading right now?
I like listening to audio books and I have hundreds of books downloaded to my virtual library! Having the audiobooks is very helpful since I have been travelling a lot so they are easy to transport and easy to listen to multiple books at once. I enjoy history books the most and I also enjoy some autobiographies. I usually have a few books going at one time and I am currently reading The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz and Autoimmune Solution by Amy Meyers.
10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
My one piece of advice would be to have a balanced life. Make sure you are happy in your personal life because a research career requires a lot of dedication. Having a balance is important because you want to ensure that during the time you are spending in the lab you are energetic and happy and are able to get work done. It is also important to remember that it is not about the number of hours you spend in the lab but it is how much you do while you are there.
11. What will the new Research & Learning Tower mean to you?
When I first came to SickKids in 1994, I was told that there would be a new research building. Eventually, PGCRL became a reality, and it was so exciting for me that we now can work together in this state-of-the-art building. I think the PGCRL gives SickKids researchers a great opportunity to collaborate and will certainly bring our productivity to the next level. The PGCRL also means a lot to me because it is a great learning environment for trainees to acquire knowledge about different types of biomedical research.