Xi He

Born: 1962 | Wuhan, CN

Xi He was born in Wuhan, China. His father was a professor targeted during the Cultural Revolution. While He's early schooling was "backward", he felt much respect for his teachers. After Mao's death, he attended Huazhong University of Science and Technology. His interest in biology led him to pursue a master's in biomedical engineering, during which time he met Dr. Sidney Sullivan. He attended University of California, San Diego for his PhD, transitioning a different national and academic culture. He worked in Michael G. Rosenfeld's laboratory, researching transcription factors in regulation of brain development. After a postoc at the National Institute of Health, he became a principal investigator at Harvard University, where he researches Wnt cell signaling pathway in gene expression, regulation, and development.

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0472
No. of pages: 76
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
12 and15 August 2004
Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Xi He was born in Wuhan, China during the Cultural Revolution, though he and his family soon moved out of Wuhan into a much more rural area. His father was an associate professor in a medical university—an intellectual—that was targeted during the Revolution. He's early schooling was quite "backward" and "simple," yet he felt much respect for his teachers. Mao's death in 1976 opened a wealth of opportunities for many and college became a viable option for He. After completing the rigorous national college entrance exam, he returned to Wuhan and attended Huazhong University of Science and Technology, where he majored in mechanical engineering. He's interest in biology led him to pursue a master's degree in biomedical engineering at Huazhong University, during which time he was fortunate to meet Dr. Sidney Sullivan. He applied to and matriculated at the University of California, San Diego for his doctoral degree, transitioning into not only a different national culture, but also a different academic culture. He chose to work in Michael G. Rosenfeld's laboratory at San Diego and pursued research on transcription factors in the regulation of brain development. He decided to continue his scientific life in the United States and took a postdoctoral fellowship in Luis Parada's laboratory at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During his time at the NIH, He married and also began studies in the molecular biology of Wnt signaling in cells in Harold E. Varmus's lab at the NIH. After finishing his postdoctoral work, He accepted a principal investigator position at Harvard University where he developed his research on the Wnt cell signaling pathway in gene expression, regulation, and development. Throughout the remainder of the oral history He discusses laboratory management, competition, collaboration, funding, and his transition from China to the United States (He became a US citizen). The interview concludes with He's thoughts on the role of the scientist in educating the public; the privatization of research; gender and ethnicity issues in science; and the role of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences in his scientific career.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1982 Huazhong University of Science and Technology BS Mechanical Engineering
1985 Huazhong University of Science and Technology MS Bioengineering
1992 University of California, San Diego PhD Biology

Professional Experience

National Cancer Institute

1992 to 1994
Postdoctoral Fellow
1994 to 1996
Postdoctoral Fellow

Harvard Medical School

1997
Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology
2002
Associate Professor, Department of Neurology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1984

Second Prize Winner of The Young Investigator Award, National Conference on Biomedical Engineering (China)

1985

Third Price Winner of the best graduate thesis (for master's degree), Huazhong University of Science and Technology (China)

1986 to 1992

Graduate Fellowship, University of California at San Diego

1988

Phi Beta Delta Society for International Scholars

1994 to 1996

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Breast Cancer Research Program, Department of Defense

1997

William Randolph Hearst Fund Award

1997

Milton Fund Award

1997 to 2000

Johnson & Johnson Focused Giving Program Award

1997 to 2001

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

1998 to 2002

Department of Defense Career Development Award

1999 to 2002

Klingenstein Fellowship in Neuroscience

2001 to 2005

M. Keck Foundation Distinguished Young Scholar in Medical Research

2004

SCBA (Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America) Junior InvestigatorAward for Excellence in Research (one awardee every two years)

2005 to 2010

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar

2005

Invited to nominate recipients for the Japan Prize 2006 and 2007

Table of Contents

Early and Undergraduate Years
1

Growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China Parents. Impressions of present-day China. Sister. Mao Zedong's death. Early schooling in rural China. Childhood interests and experiences. Mathematics teacher. College entrance examination. Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Mechanical engineering.

Graduate School and Postdoctoral Years
23

Decision to pursue biology. Huazhong University of Science and Technology for master's degree in biomedical engineering. Dr. Sidney Sullivan. University of California, San Diego. First impressions of the United States. Doctoral research on transcription factors in the regulation of brain development. Michael G. Rosenfeld's laboratory. Religion. Postdoctoral fellowship in Luis Parada'slaboratory at the National Institutes of Health. Marriage. Harold E. Varmus's laboratory at the NIH. Postdoctoral research in molecular biology on Wnt signaling in cells.

Faculty Years
43

Becoming a principal investigator. Position at Harvard University. Research on cell signaling in gene expression, cell regulation, and development. Practical applications of his work. Teaching responsibilities. Writing journal articles. Balancing family and career. His son. Becoming a United States citizen. Leisure activities. The issue of patents.

Final Thoughts
62

Being familiar with the history of a particular field of research. Competition and collaboration in science. Educating the public about science. The national scientific agenda. Privatization of research. Impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences on his laboratory.

Index
74

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten