The uneasy expression on her mother's face did nothing to dissuade pre-schooler Melissa Yeung from taking every opportunity to find worms and mush them into her pockets for later study. Yeung wasn't trying to gross out her mom, she was simply doing what, at age 30, she wryly refers to as "worm anatomy."
Yeung, who grew up in Toronto, is a nephrology fellow at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, where she works in the lab at the Transplant Research Center. To read more about Melissa and her National Kidney Foundation-funded research
"The main goal of my research is to find novel strategies that specifically target the destructive immune response against the transplanted organ, while maintaining general immune health that's required to fight infection and cancer," says Yeung, who is grateful to the NKF for granting her a research fellowship that has allowed her to pursue ways to help transplant patients. "It's also exciting that my research has implications beyond kidney transplantation." Understanding how the immune system recognizes and reacts to a foreign organ also has implications in the area of vaccinations, autoimmune disease and cancer, she explains.
Yeung's passion for transplant nephrology was sparked by an anniversary: "It amazes me that the first successful kidney transplant was performed just over 50 years ago, and only slightly longer than that have we been able to perform dialysis," she says. "Prior to that, kidney failure was terminal."
Yeung, who also cares for patients, says her dedication to them stems from a life-threatening childhood illness that resulted in frequent doctor visits and hospital stays. "I aspire to make as much of an impact on my patients as my doctors did on me!" says Yeung. "I see being a clinician researcher as the perfect blend - having patient interaction, yet also satisfying my curiosity to learn about how our immune system works."
When Yeung can drag herself away from the work she so loves, it's often to sit in a café, she says, "sipping a latte, as I watch Boston stroll by." Sure beats stuffing worms in her pockets.
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