Film strip with three images of Andrew Chang

Andrew describes why he decided to study epilepsy, and reveals his inner desire to perform scientific research in space.

 

What brought you to Gladstone?
Toward the end of my time in graduate school, I knew that I wanted to pivot from cardiovascular biology into neuroscience, and move toward a disease-oriented field. My personal belief is that the most creative innovation arises from interdisciplinary work, so I hoped to combine my cardiovascular and developmental biology graduate training with postdoctoral training in neuroscience. I was lucky in that Jeanne Paz enthusiastically encouraged me to pursue research in this new area in her lab. And ultimately, Gladstone seemed like the perfect place to be able to study the basic biological mechanisms underlying difficult diseases.

What do you like about Gladstone?
My favorite aspect of Gladstone is the people I work with. Unlike giant academic institutions, we have a small, tight-knit community with diverse areas of expertise all in one building, which greatly fosters collaboration, new ideas, and high-quality science. Additionally, Gladstone attracts world-class speakers and offers classes from grant writing to programming, so there are always opportunities to learn. Lastly, I want to give a shout out to the core facilities here at Gladstone. Their knowledge, equipment, and assistance make our research progress at a much faster pace than we could accomplish by ourselves.

Were you interested in science as a child?
Yes! I watched a ton of Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy while I was growing up. I had always been curious about how and why things worked, so science was always my favorite subject, even in elementary school.

How did you decide to work on epilepsy?
Around 1 percent of the US population (nearly 3 million people) is currently living with epilepsy, and 1 in 26 people will have epilepsy over their lifetime, yet awareness of epilepsy is low compared to other neurological diseases. The disease significantly affects patients’ ability to enjoy day-to-day activities. I hope that by studying epilepsy, I may contribute in some way to finding methods to alleviate this and improve their quality of life.

Can you describe your current research project?
In general, I study how neurovascular dynamics—the interaction between neuronal activity and cerebral blood flow—shape seizure progression, and how neurovascular changes contribute to the development of epilepsy after brain injury. For these studies, I developed an approach that allows me to visualize cerebral blood vessels and simultaneously capture electrical brain activities and behavior in a freely moving animal. This method allows me to detect changes in neurovascular dynamics during seizures, or chronically in neurological disease progression. By understanding the mechanisms behind seizures and the development of epilepsy, I hope to identify new therapeutic targets to treat the disease.

What or who influenced your decision to work in science?
In my senior year of high school, my biology teacher recommended that I attend a program called Mini-Med School, which consisted of a series of seminars where scientists explained their ongoing research projects. I only vaguely remember what the talks were about, but what stuck with me was that I realized for the first time that science from textbooks is just the tip of the iceberg, and there is so much yet to be discovered and understood. This experience, and the guidance of many great mentors, set me on a track to dive into a career in science.

What do you do when you are not working?
When I’m not working, I like to recreate the Taiwanese dishes I’ve eaten when I visited Taiwan, like pork-minced rice, tea eggs, beef noodle soup, and Taiwanese popcorn chicken. It’s always a fun challenge to scout around for the right ingredients and mix and match different recipes to get the flavor profiles just as I remembered them. The other enjoyable part of cooking is then being able to share the food with friends!

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
If I could learn to do anything, I would learn to travel to and work in space. It would be incredible to be able to do science in microgravity and learn how biology and physiology change (including blood flow) under this condition. These insights will likely be useful in understanding how to treat human diseases back on Earth. It would also be an incredible experience to be able to admire the beauty and expanse of the entire Earth.

What is your hidden/unique talent?
If you leave food and snacks in front of me, I’ll make them disappear in a blink of an eye, as my labmates know a little too well!

Name one thing that not many people know about you.
It took me a bunch of rejected applications and interviews before a lab took me on as an undergraduate researcher, which began my science career. The rejections, though negative at the time, really taught me how to persevere, and how to critically assess my own strengths and weaknesses, both of which are tremendously important in research. They also taught me to try my best to give others, especially younger students, opportunities to pursue science as a career.

If you could meet any scientist from any point in time, who would it be and why?
I would love to be able to meet Wilder Penfield, the Canadian-American neurosurgeon who pioneered many of the surgery techniques used to treat intractable epilepsy patients. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on all the recent advances in circuit neuroscience, as well as how cerebral blood flow and cerebral metabolism interact after brain injuries that may lead to epilepsy.

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