Meet early career researcher Jingwen Fan: An impressive breakthrough, a new fellowship, and a bright future in public health leadership

Meet early career researcher Jingwen Fan: An impressive breakthrough, a new fellowship, and a bright future in public health leadership

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    Dr Jingwen Fan

Alumna Jingwen Fan (Emmanuel 2017) has been announced as the 2023 Lady Mireille and Sir Dennis Gillings Global Public Health Fellow for the University of Cambridge.

It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that I gradually realised science alone won’t save us from the ongoing and potential global crisis. We need interdisciplinary collaborations from scientists, business and government.

Dr Jingwen Fan

Dr Jingwen Fan is a former Gates Scholar, whose PhD research found that Gaucher disease, prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews, protects against tuberculosis. Jingwen will join Dr Darragh Duffy's lab at the Institut Pasteur to study the mechanisms behind different immune responses in different individuals by using cellular mechanistic models, population immunology cohorts, and experimental clinical studies. 

The two-year post-doctoral fellowships are the vision of neuroscientist and entrepreneur, Lady Mireille Gillings and curated by a group of international partners made up of the University of Cambridge, the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Concordia University, Montreal and anchored by France-based Institut Pasteur.

The Lady Mireille and Sir Dennis Gillings Global Public Health Fellowships aim to help advance the next generation of leaders in public health by providing talented early-career scientists with the business and financial skills to become successful leaders and entrepreneurs in the public health environment. 

We spoke to Jingwen about her research and what receiving the Lady Mireille and Sir Dennis Gillings Global Public Health Fellowship means for her ambitions in public health.

Where did your interest in science, especially medical research come from?

Growing up in a developing country, I was deeply impressed by the transformative impact that science and technology have had on improving the quality of people’s lives. While I was studying at the Beutler Institute at Xiamen University, I was taught and inspired by some brilliant teachers and scientists in genetics and immunology courses, and I became particularly interested in these two subjects. I was also volunteering in science education in remote villages, and it was then that I became aware of the unequal distribution of education and medical care among different regions. With my curiosity towards genetics and immunology and my passion for ensuring equitable access to essential medical services across the globe, I was determined to become a medical research scientist and develop efficient and affordable therapies to make sure people around the world live healthy and dignified lives.

What has the opportunity to study and live in Cambridge meant to you?

I am a fan of Harry Potter so studying and living in Cambridge makes me feel like I am in Hogwarts, except here we use science and technology to make magic happen! Cambridge meant a lot to me both academically and personally. During my PhD, I had the opportunity to work with many talented and dedicated scientists, attend numerous inspiring scientific talks, and learn many cutting-edge science and techniques. One cool thing about Cambridge is that you get to meet leading experts from so many different fields of research at work, formal dinners, student events or even playing sports. You can discuss anything you are interested in or discover new, or unheard-of research. People are normally very nice and willing to share their wisdom. I have had many impressive conversations with students and professors from all over the world, about a wide range of subjects such as philosophy, archaeology, music, economy, law, nature sciences, medicine, and engineering — an exposure to diverse cultural backgrounds and academic disciplines that I would not have experienced elsewhere.

You have spoken before about how the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on your career ambitions. Can you tell us more about this?

I wrote a blog for Gates Cambridge sharing my experiences and thoughts during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was during this time that I gradually realised science alone won’t save us from the ongoing and potential global crisis. We need interdisciplinary collaborations from scientists, business and government. There are many more things scientists could do to help society in addition to doing research and publishing papers, such as improved leadership to develop and manage their ideas to maximum potential in public health policy. Another thing I found intriguing during the pandemic is that different individuals developed a wide spectrum of manifestations, from asymptomatic carriage to life-threatening conditions. You see individual differences in many other diseases and treatment conditions. This is due to age, sex, genetics and environmental and lifestyle exposures. I hope to study this further to improve patient management from diagnosis, and prognosis, to treatment. 

What does receiving the Lady Mireille and Sir Dennis Gillings Global Public Health Fellowship mean to you academically and personally?

Academically, the Gillings Fellowship supports me in studying the area of my interest, the fundamental mechanisms behind inter-individual differences in immune responses in Dr Darragh Duffy's lab at Institut Pasteur. Personally, the Gillings Fellowship aligns perfectly with my goals of not only being a research scientist but also training in areas such as entrepreneurial studies, leadership development, change management and governance. These skills will be essential for me to realise my passion for and ambitions in public health and future interdisciplinary collaborations.

How important was it for you that this fellowship is not just about academic research but about having an impact on public health?

When I read the description of the Gillings Fellowship earlier this year, I found its core values similar to the Gates Cambridge Scholarship I received for my PhD. Both of them encourage researchers to commit to improving the lives of others through doing excellent research and developing leadership skills. This value is deeply rooted in my mind. Doing research is fun, but I am also enthusiastic about witnessing the implementation of my research to actually improve people’s lives. I always find things that have a tangible impact on society give me the most sustainable and powerful motivation.

I am excited and honoured to be joining the Institut Pasteur as a Gillings Fellow and looking forward to the interdisciplinary studying experience with other bright and passionate scientists!

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Philanthropic impact story
The Pasteur Foundation US and the Institut Pasteur are pleased to announce that the 2023 cohort of Lady Mireille and Sir Dennis Gillings Global Public Health Fellowships have been conferred. Those excelling in science will have a rare opportunity to acquire business and financial acumen and will emerge with the skills required to become successful entrepreneurs in the public health environment, influencing future generations.