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AAPI Heritage Month: Q&A With Featured Research Trainee, Huijie (Jade) Feng, PhD

Published on May 2, 2023 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 10 months 3 weeks ago
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Huijie (Jade) Feng, PhD

Huijie (Jade) Feng, PhD is the Featured Research Trainee for May, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Editor's Note: Our Featured Research Trainee for May, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, is Huijie (Jade) Feng, PhD. Dr. Feng is a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Neurology, working in the laboratory of Ethan Goldberg, MD, PhD. Dr. Feng received a BS in Pharmacy from China Pharmaceutical University, and a PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology from Michigan State University. In this Q&A, she discusses her research, her experience at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and her thoughts on AAPI Heritage Month.

What message do you hope people take away from celebrating AAPI Heritage Month?

AAPI Heritage Month is a time to acknowledge and appreciate the contributions and struggles of the AAPI community, and promote respect and inclusivity toward its members. It's a reminder to continue fighting against discrimination, hate, and xenophobia toward AAPI individuals, especially with the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It also serves as an opportunity for individuals and communities to learn about, celebrate, and honor the rich and diverse cultures and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and advocate for their equal rights and opportunities. According to the Federal Asian Pacific American Council, the theme for AAPI Heritage Month 2023 is "Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity," which makes this year an excellent time to cultivate leadership in the AAPI community.

What are some research projects you're currently working on and why are they important?

I use electrophysiology and advanced microscopy to study the patho-mechanisms of KCNC1-related progressive myoclonic epilepsy 7 (EPM7) by working with an animal model. I study individual neurons in the brain to find out how they contribute to neuronal network abnormalities, and then evaluate how those abnormalities lead to behavior changes. The second part of this project is to test the translational potential of a novel small molecule to treat EPM7.

In addition, I use single nuclei RNA sequencing to discover the transcriptomic changes of EPM7. This mega dataset of EPM7 can provide more answers on the pathological changes throughout different development stages. This knowledge will pave the way for the development of targeted therapies and treatments to manage symptoms and slow disease progression.

Rare neurological diseases are important to study and understand not only because they have a significant impact on affected individuals and their families, but they also can provide valuable insights into the underlying mechanisms of the neurological system. Some genes' functions are discovered only after they are associated with rare disorders through genomic sequencing. Many of these diseases are chronic, debilitating, and life-threatening. Studying these diseases and developing effective treatments can improve quality of life and increase the lifespan of affected individuals.

What are some of the most salient training experiences you've had at CHOP thus far?

In 2022, I participated in the Cell and Gene Therapy Clinical Training Program. This training provides people who are interested in cell and gene therapy with a well-rounded perspective of the field, including research and development, regulatory affairs, medical affairs, and technology transfer. Cell and gene therapy is incredibly important for developing targeted therapies for rare diseases. In this year-long course, I met knowledgeable instructors and colleagues from both the research and clinical sides and received support from a group of wonderful and effective administrative staff.

Aside from research, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishment is my ability to find humor in almost everything, which has helped me to be resilient through many difficult events in my life. Humor unites people, and I am grateful for my friends who remain by my side through trying times.

What do you do for fun when you're not working?

I like to run along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Kelly Drive with the Philadelphia Runners Club, care for cats at the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, and grow plants with funny names at the Woodland Cemetery as a community gardener. In good weather, I organize and lead outings with the Sierra Club to educate people on the importance of environmental protection. I enjoy introducing people to the most authentic (and weird) Chinese food I can find and seeing their genuine reaction when they taste it. Recently, I started trying stand-up comedy, which I find to be a good way to gain confidence — nothing pushes you through the embarrassment of public speaking faster than dealing with people who do not laugh at your carefully crafted jokes.