EMBO MEMBERSHIP EMBO MEMBERS
If you want to be a leading researcher, you have to learn new techniques, and to do that, you have to move around. Find the best place, expose yourself to the best possible techniques.
New EMBO Member XIN LU talks to EMBOencounters about her research, the differences between practising science in China and the UK and some of the challenges facing women in science.
Xin Lu – discoverer of the ASPP family of proteins and director of the Oxford Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
(LICR) – is no stranger to adversity. When she arrived in England in 1986 as a visiting scientist from China, she spoke very little English.
What made it harder, she explains, was that China had not yet opened its borders to the rest of the world, so all the brand names in shops were unfamiliar. “Sometimes I would stand in a phar- macy for an hour trying to decipher which of the many bottles and tubes in front of me was the toothpaste.”
Language was not a problem for long. Over the next eight years, Xin completed her PhD and
postdoctoral research in the biochemistry depart- ment at Dundee University, and was poised and ready to lead her own independent research group. In 2000, she was made a Member of the LICR, an international cancer research institute with branches in seven countries. In 2004 she became director of the London Branch and, in 2008, she opened the Oxford Branch of the LICR.
Xin Lu is renowned for her discovery of the apoptosis-stimulating protein of p53 or ASPP family of proteins and their role as molecular switches of cell fate. Xin’s ongoing work is to elucidate the biological importance and molec- ular mechanisms of cell polarity in tumour suppression and metastasis; and to identify mole- cular switches that survey and integrate signals from the cell surface to transcription and cell fate determination.
“Our goal is to identify therapeutic targets in the ASPP pathway not only for cancer but for other diseases as well,” she says.
In recognition of her excellence in research, Xin Lu was elected in November 2011 to EMBO membership. “It is a privilege and an honour,” she says. “It will enlarge my community and take my research to a different level.”
Selected on merit Excellence is the watchword for Xin’s long career. She was one of the first
generation of high school students in China to
be accepted into university on the basis of merit. “Between 1973 and 1976, after the Cultural Revolution, people were nominated from farms and factories for university. Fortunately, when I finished high school in 1978, these regulations had just come to end. I took an exam and was
On finishing her bachelor’s degree in 1982, Xin went on to study for a master’s degree at Beijing’s prestigious Cancer Institute of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical School. She looks back on this time as the start of her research career.
While China is now a hub for innovative scientific research, in the mid-Eighties it was essential for scientists to travel to advance their research knowledge. Xin applied for and was awarded a research training fellowship from the International Agency for Research on Cancer from the World Health Organization (WHO). She worked as a PhD student in the Clare Hall labo- ratories of the former Imperial Cancer Research Fund, learning English at the same time.
Reflecting on her career, Xin says that being mobile was crucial. “If you want to be a leading researcher, you have to learn new techniques, and to do that, you have to move around. Find the best place, expose yourself to the best possi- ble techniques.”
China a gender forerunner If China matches developed countries in terms of scientific excel- lence, it is a leader in gender balance. “In China, I never had any sense of difference between men and women,” says Xin. “My mother was a professor, the director at the Cancer Institute of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences was a woman and 50 percent of the principal investiga- tors were women. Men did as much childcare and housework as women.”
While Xin says she has been fortunate to receive strong support from LICR throughout her independent research career, she does recog- nize that a society that doesn’t provide adequate childcare makes hurdles for women in pursuing their career goals.
“It’s not up to women only to fix this, but the whole of society. However, while the changes are happening, female scientists must take up their roles and pursue their research with confidence. Lack of confidence is a real obstacle to success.”
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