Rong Li Installed as Ross Professor of Basic Science Research
When Richard Santen, MD, met Rong Li, PhD, at the University of Virginia, he realized there was synergy among relationships, something he spoke to the crowd about during Li’s installation as the Ross Professor of Basic Science Research at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS).
Both Li and Santen shared an interest in how male hormones could be converted into female hormones via aromatase, an enzyme responsible for a key step in the biosynthesis of estrogens. “There was synergy there,” said Santen, who serves as chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
“Rong has had quite the career,” he said. “I would characterize him as a perspicacious investigator. He comes up with ideas that people really haven’t thought about.”
The installation honors Li’s stature in the field and important contributions to cancer biology, particularly related to breast cancer, said Jeffrey S. Akman, MD ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS. It also reflects the confidence in Li to lead a department steeped in history, approaching its centennial anniversary.
“I am humbled and honored to accept the Ross Professorship of Basic Science Research,” said Li, who serves as chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at SMHS. The endowed professorship was established in 2006 by the Walter G. Ross Foundation to support a SMHS faculty member with a significant portfolio of basic science research and translational research in its various stages.
Ross was a philanthropist and pioneer who helped build the Panama Canal, during which time he observed the toll that disease took on the local population. This inspired his later interest in medical research and health care, explained Forrest Maltzman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at GW. Ross served on the GW Board of Trustees and made significant contributions to GW Hospital, later establishing the Walter Ross Floor of Medicine at the hospital.
“I was brought up in China at a time of material deprivation and monolithic culture,” Li shared. “As a teenager, the only exposure I had to the outside world was a nightly, short-wave news broadcast from Voice of America.”
Never in his wildest dreams, he said, did he picture himself receiving the honor of an endowed professorship in Washington, D.C., 40 years later.
Li highlighted his vision for the advancement of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, sharing a piece of advice he received from Anton Sidawy, MD, Lewis B. Saltz Chair and Professor of Surgery at SMHS: People are the power.
“It is the people in my department whose voices I am here to listen to, whose careers I am here to facilitate, and whose collective wisdom and efforts I must and will rely on to move our academic engine of innovation to the next exciting level,” he said.
Li highlighted several components that he considers key to maximizing true academic value, vitality, and vigor. That includes a team of brilliant minds and warm hearts, a common vision of academic excellence, shared understanding of team and consensus building, and an environment in which members are given a fair chance and adequate support to pursue their academic passion.
“I am confident with the comradery from you all, our journey to foster research excellence will be equally joyful, intellectually stimulating, and life enriching,” said Li. “As our basic science-oriented department approaches its centennial anniversary, we are eager to achieve more cross pollination and synergy both in and outside the department.”