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Zhi Yu

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Zhi Yu always did well in biology growing up, but she was also interested in numbers. When she studied medicine during college at Hong Kong Baptist University, she took extra physics courses and sat in on math classes.

“I liked quantifying things and also I liked to challenge myself,” she said. “I will believe it more when I see the numbers.”

She also wasn’t satisfied with only knowing what she learned from classes. During a clinical internship after college, she felt there were too many unanswered questions about all the different types of patients that came in, “more variations than what you can learn from books and from class.”

Yu’s interests both in crunching numbers and in finding solutions to treat the vast variety of patients led her to complete a master’s in epidemiology at Harvard, and then a Ph.D. in epidemiology and biostatistics at Johns Hopkins.

Now, during her postdoctoral fellowship at the Broad Institute, she’s trying to hone in on the distinct mechanisms that cause cardiovascular disease in different patients in order to inform the development of more tailored treatments.

So far she’s researched what may lead people with chronic kidney disease and pneumonia to be at higher risk for heart disease. Most recently, Yu used different levels of analysis — at the DNA, RNA, and protein level — to study how a certain acquired mutation in the blood can lead to cardiovascular problems. 

The goal, she said, is to “identify specific pathways so we can have a precision target.”

— Elaine Chen