The list of “2022 Shanghai University Student of the Year” recently unveiled the ten individuals who were selected across the city of Shanghai. Chen Liang, a PhD candidate from ECNU’s School of Life Sciences was among the honorees to make the list.
Chen Liang, a PhD candidate from the School of Life Sciences of ECNU’s Class of 2020, is also known as the class monitor and a member of the CPC , who has been awarded the National Scholarship on two separate occasions , in addition to awards such as the Principal’s Scholarship for Graduates, the national “Top 100 Model Postgraduate Party Members” in Chinese universities, and the Gold Medal of the 12th “Challenge Cup” China College Students Entrepreneurial Plan Competition.
With Chen’s main focus on the development of cutting-edge gene editing technologies, he has published five Nature sub-publications as the first author (including co-author), and highlight reviews in top international journals such as Nature Reviews Genetics and Nature Cell Biology, and applied for 13 patent applications, of which two have been granted. Moreover, his achievements have been published in China Postgraduate Magazine of the Ministry of Education, and he was featured in People’s Daily as one of the “100 National Scholarship Winners”.
Be a pacesetter pioneering in cutting edge technologies
“Realizing the high level scientific and technological self-reliance is the key to the Chinese modernization.” Chen Liang’s research focus is on the “development of cutting edge gene-editing technology”.Technological breakthroughs are not achieved overnight, however, as they require thousands of repeated transfection experiments, months of no positive data outputs, and repeated questioning from peers. These struggles did not shake Chen Liang’s determination. With the collective efforts of his mentor and research team, he insisted on screening over 200,000 cell samples, and, as a result, he successfully developed four novel gene editing technologies at the forefront of the field worldwide.
These groundbreaking technologies by Chen and the ECNU research team achieved high precision and low off-target efforts for the first time, providing a revolutionary technological upgrade for the treatment of rare genetic diseases.
All of the research achievements have been published in prestigious international journals, including Nature sub-journals, and reported by 23 mainstream media, domestically and internationally, including Global Times, China Science News, and China Education Net. The related technologies have garnered interests from 14 renowned universities and research institutions both at home and abroad, including ETH Zurich in Switzerland, Seoul National University in Korea and Chinese Academy of Sciences, who have requested to use these technologies for other researches. Chen Liang has also been invited to participate in the Genome Engineering Seminar held at the Harvard Medical School and deliver a presentation.
Be a pioneer benefiting people’s health with innovation
The “sky-reaching” research also requires “grounded” transformation. “No small group should be left behind!” The words of Zhang Jinni, the negotiator from the National Healthcare Security Administration, deeply resonate with Chen Liang.
In his research, Chen Liang learned that there are over 7,000 rare genetic diseases in the world, affecting a significant number of patients who suffer greatly from these conditions. As an example, the use of traditional treatment options such as β-thalassemia, which is more prevalent in impoverished areas provide temporary relief but not a permanent cure. Frequent blood transfusions and iron chelation therapy become a painful and costly burden for patients and their families. Genetic-editing offers a fundamental approach to treatment. Chen Liang is dedicated to finding ways to translate cutting edge laboratory technologies into practical solutions that can benefit more rare disease patients.
Chen Liang established an interdisciplinary innovation and entrepreneurship team with students from other majors such as Business Administration and Product Design etc. They focus on “novel strategies for genetic disease diagnosis and treatment” and collaborate with multiple hospitals and high-tech enterprises to bridge the gap between research outcomes and commercialization.
After six months of market research, online meetings, skill training and business plan development, Chen Liang led the team to win the national Gold Medal in the “Challenge Cup” China College Student Entrepreneurial Plan Competition and the Silver Medal in the Shanghai division of the “Internet+” College Students’ Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition. More importantly, their technology provides a new solution for the eradication of rare diseases. As Chen Liang said, participating in competition and winning awards is not the final purpose, he aims to raise awareness about rare disease patients through their competition projects, ensure the translation of laboratory research into practical applications that can benefit more patients, and make genetic disease treatments more accessible and affordable for those in need.
Chen Liang crowned the Gold Medal of the “Challenge Cup” China College Students Entrepreneurial Plan Competition
Be a dedicator to practicing original aspiration with patriotism
As a member of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Chen Liang, while serving as the Vice Secretary of the Second Party Branch for Biochemistry Research Graduate Students, organized cross-disciplinary themed party activities in collaboration with the Party Branch of the Philosophy Department. They aimed to guide graduate students in the field of Biology to develop a correct understanding of science and life, particularly in light of hot topic of the first genetically-edited babies.
To address the issue of insufficient regular maintenance of the school’s public laboratory platform, Chen Liang led the branch to plan and implement the “Party Member Pioneer Station Service Platform” regular volunteer service activities, playing the exemplary role of party members in serving the people and solving problems. He also volunteered to join the university’s “Woodpecker” laboratory safety guards, actively promoting a safe and clean laboratory environment.
As the monitor of the 2020 doctoral program, Chen Liang actively cooperated with the university and the department in carrying out epidemic prevention and control measures as well as managing daily class affairs. He also volunteered in the Shanghai Science and Technology Festival Open Day to help primary and junior school students and their parents experience the charm of science and uncover the mysteries of scientific research.
Chen Liang participates in the Shanghai Science and Technology Festival Open Day
In March 2021, Chen Liang received a commendation letter from the Security Department of Shanghai Jiao Tong University for his honest act of returning a lost mobile phone to its owner (a PhD student of Shanghai Jiao Tong University) despite waiting in heavy rain. His act of integrity and exemplary moral character was highly praised. In the same year, Chen Liang was also selected as one of the “Model Party Members among the Top 100 Graduate Students” in the second batch by the Ministry of Education.
General Secretary Xi Jinping’s expectations for Chinese youth, “to embrace their dreams while remaining down-to-earth, daring to think and daring to act, and accomplishing good deeds”, also resonate with Chen Liang. As he approaches his graduation from his doctoral program this June and prepares to step out of the campus, Chen Liang expressed his commitment: “In the future, I will continue to pursue my academic path I am passionate about. I also hope to develop more valuable and practical cutting-edge technologies to apply them in a wider range of scenarios to bring health and well-being to humanity.”
Copy editor: Melody Zhang, Mayfield Joshua Monroe
Editor: Yvaine Lyu