Meng Wang, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine, is the recipient of the 2017 TAMEST Edith and Peter O'Donnell Award in Medicine.
As humans live longer, Wang’s work looks at how to improve our “health span” in addition to our lifespan. Through her unique studies of worms, she has discovered new genetic and molecular insights into how humans age. She’s also exploring natural compounds to develop therapies that could result in healthier aging. “Dr. Wang is a bright, wonderful, passionate scientist, with a curiosity about problems that are really important for general health,” says Huda Zoghbi, M.D., professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. “Through her innovative genetic and technological approaches, she’s really provided beautiful insight about some pathways that regulate health and longevity. She’s discovered a totally independent way to affect life span.”
Medical advances have extended the human lifespan; the new challenge is to extend our health span. With great cleverness, resourcefulness, and insight, Dr. Wang has produced a stunning series of insights into the mechanisms underlying aging. Her doctoral work, accomplished single-handedly (her only co-authors being her two mentors), showed that the JNK pathway is at the center of a signal transduction network in Drosophila that protects against oxidative stress by upregulating protective genes (Dev Cell, 2003). Meng’s next step provided a model to explain how stress and nutrition interact through the JNK and insulin signaling pathways to affect longevity (Cell, 2005).
As a postdoctoral fellow, Meng discovered the relationship between fat metabolism, germline proliferation, and longevity in C. elegans when she found that germline stem cells regulate fat storage by controlling the transcription of an intestinal triglyceride lipase. (Intestinal overexpression of this lipase promotes lipolysis and longevity; Science 2008.)
Over the past several years as a young faculty member, Meng discovered that the lysosome, the organelle responsible for digesting and recycling macromolecules, sends signals to the nucleus that modulate gene expression—and that this pathway is modulated by dietary fatty acids (Science, 2015; PNAS 2015). Meng also conducted the first genome-wide RNAi screen to identify genes regulating reproductive longevity (Nature Methods 2011), and identified several new genes associated with endocrine control of reproductive and organismal aging (PLoS Genet 2014; Curr Biol 2015). Most of the genes are conserved in mammals and are therefore likely to be relevant to human health.
Dr. Wang obtained her PH.D. in Genetics at the University of Rochester (2005) and was a post-doctoral fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School between 2005-2010, working in the laboratory of Gary Ruvkun. As a post-doctoral fellow, she made important observations regarding aging in C. elegans, and particularly identified a lipase induced in response to germ cell arrest. This lipase promotes lipolysis and longevity. A paper describing these results was published in Science (2008). She was first appointed as an Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine in 2010, and promoted to Associate Professor in 2016. Her publications have been in high impact journals such as Science, PNAS, Cell, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society.