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Stem cell researcher Wan holding Raisz Professorship

By Ron Durham

Dr. Yihong Wan
Dr. Yihong Wan

Dr. Yihong Wan, Associate Professor of Pharmacology, has been selected as the inaugural holder of the Lawrence G. Raisz Professorship in Bone Cell Research.

The endowment at UT Southwestern Medical Center honors Dr. Lawrence G. Raisz, an internationally known expert in bone research and one of the founders of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. Dr. Raisz died in 2010 at the age of 84.

“It is my tremendous honor to receive this endowed Professorship, as Dr. Raisz is a legend in the bone field, who has earned international prominence and respect for his groundbreaking work in the management of osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease,” Dr. Wan said. “I am also extremely grateful to Dr. Pak for his generous funds, which will provide my laboratory the opportunities to further pursue novel ideas and cutting-edge research to enhance global skeletal health.”

The endowment held by Dr. Wan was funded through a gift from the Charles Y.C. Pak Foundation, founded in 1989 by Dr. Pak, a longtime UT Southwestern faculty member and world-renowned mineral metabolism researcher. Dr. Pak, currently a Professor of Internal Medicine, is past Director of the Charles and Jane Pak Center for Mineral Metabolism and Clinical Research, named in his and his wife’s honor. Previous Pak support also created multiple UT Southwestern professorships for collaborative research in mineral metabolism.

Dr. Wan’s stem cell research focuses on the differentiation of osteoclasts and osteoblasts in the context of skeletal physiology and bone regeneration, with the goal of better prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and bone metastasis of cancers. Osteoclasts break down old bone tissue, allowing osteoblasts to replace it with new material. Together, these cells facilitate bone mending and bone growth. Typically, old bone degradation and new bone formation are tightly synchronized. However, when osteoclast activity outpaces osteoblast activity under conditions such as aging or cancer bone metastasis, bone loss occurs. Her investigations reveal how hormones, transcription factors, miRNAs and pharmacological agents impact bone health. Dr. Wan served as the senior author of a study published in the journal Nature which identified a microRNA that could effectively block postmenopausal osteo-porosis and cancer bone metastasis in mouse models. These findings from her laboratory may translate into new and better therapeutics for skeletal disorders.

Dr. Wan earned her Ph.D. in molecular biology, bio-physics, and genetics at the University of Colorado Health Science Center in Denver, and performed her postdoctoral research with Dr. Ron Evans at The Salk Institute in Lo Jolla, California. A Virginia Murchison Linthicum Scholar in Medical Research, she joined the faculty at UT Southwestern in 2008 as part of the Endowed Scholars Program, which helps to recruit highly skilled basic-science investigators who bring their expertise to campus as tenure-track Assistant Professors. Each Scholar receives four-year start-up funding to enable them to explore and expand original ideas.

Dr. Wan currently is a faculty member in the Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences, Simmons Cancer Center, Hamon Center for Regenerative Science and Medicine, the Integrative Biology Program, the Cancer Biology Program, and the Medical Scientist Training Program.

Dr. Pak holds the Alfred L. and Muriel B. Rabiner Distinguished Academic Chair for Mineral Metabolism Biotechnology Research.