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One Year Out: Brian Lu ’13, PhD Candidate at the Mayo Clinic

An archery enthusiast since he was in junior high school, Brian Lu ’13 is accustomed to hitting his target. Lu’s goal after graduating with a biochemistry degree at Vassar was to enter the PhD program in biology at the Mayo School of Graduate Education at the world famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. That’s exactly what he’s doing.

Brian Lu ’13, now a PhD candidate at the Mayo School of Graduate Education

“Mayo was my top choice for grad school, and it’s exciting to be here,” Lu says. “The atmosphere is very friendly because everyone knows we’re all working very hard.”

With the bulk of his course work out of the way after his first year, Lu is now concentrating primarily on research, focusing on a possible cure for diabetes. He and his research team are studying a gene that has been shown to restore cells that produce insulin in rats. “We’re aiming to increase this beta cell replication because diabetes occurs when these cells are dying and not producing enough insulin,” he explains.

While the research project is showing some promise, Lu and his team are a long way from achieving tangible success. “We’re working with rats, and we’ve been able to show some results – the gene we’re working with is delivering more beta cells,” he says. “But we need a lot more preclinical data before we start talking about any trials with humans.”

An avid archer, Lu still finds time to shoot despite 10-hour work days in the lab.

The workload is rigorous, Lu says, but he was ready for it. “My professors at Vassar gave me a pretty good idea about what grad school would be like, and the curriculum was laid out for me when I came here for my interview,” he says. “It’s not unusual to spend 10 hours a day in the lab.”

Lu spends much of what little free time he has pursuing his long-time hobby, archery. He first took up the sport when he was in the eighth grade in Davie, FL, and he was instrumental in launching an archery club at Vassar. He began to organize the club during his sophomore year, and the following year he secured a grant from the Easton Foundation, an organization that supports collegiate archery programs, to purchase better equipment.

 When he got to Minnesota, Lu found a sporting goods store near the campus that had an archery range. He shot well enough in a regional tournament to qualify for the Minnesota State Archery Association Indoor Championships, but commitments at Mayo prevented him from competing.

Lu plans to pursue post-doctoral work at another institution after he earns his degree but says he would like to return to Mayo to teach and engage in more research. In the meantime, he’s enjoying the challenges he’s facing in the lab. “It’s really time-consuming. Many of your experiments don’t work, and you’re scratching your head and asking, ‘What do I do next?’” he says. “But all of us are going through the same thing, and there’s a lot of support. Any time you need help, there’s someone there to give you a hand.”

--Larry Hertz

Photos by Gary Linkevich ‘13

Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, October 21, 2014