Sunday, June 4, 2023 Jun 4, 2023
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The Brain Gain

Dallas has become a welcoming environment for top research scientists like Dr. Hao Zhu, who may just one day figure out how to beat cancer.
By D Magazine |
Elizabeth Lavin

Dr. Hao Zhu would like to make it abundantly clear that he didn’t plan to have an all-Asian lab. The cards just happen to fall that way when you’re researching organ regeneration and its implications for cirrhosis and liver cancer.

“It makes it easy when we go to lunch,” he says. “We just go to whatever Asian place we like.”

Between those lunches, Zhu runs one of four research labs at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center, a joint venture launched in 2011 to build upon the clinical expertise of Children’s and the scientific research of UT Southwestern. The Harvard Medical School grad had his pick of research opportunities—Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, Duke University Hospital in North Carolina—but the Dallas offer stuck out.

“My first interview here, I thought, ‘Wow, there’s all these great scientists that I’m meeting,’ ” he says. “And after coming here, it’s really true. I came from Harvard, and I feel like there’s no drop-off. It’s even better than I thought it would be.”

In addition to his research—which, without hyperbole, could end up proving to be the base for extended human life and the regeneration of body parts, among other things—Zhu spends a half-day each week working at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he sees the real-world implications of his work among patients with liver damage. He says it serves as a constant reminder that researchers need to come up with a better way to treat cancer.

And right now, he couldn’t imagine doing that work anywhere else.

“If you’re looking for an opportunity to do something big, then this city and institution welcome you with open arms,” he says. “That may be why there are a lot of Chinese labs here. People are looking for a big opportunity, and that invites the immigrant thing.”