The researcher who linked the HIV virus to AIDS, the scientist who discovered global warming 40 years ago, a child prodigy at 3 whose virtuosity on the cello has thrilled thousands all over the world, and a recipient of the French Legion of Honor.
These are among this year’s Asian Heritage Awards honorees.
The four, respectively, are Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal, for public health; Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, for science and technology; Tina Guo, for innovation, and Dr. Palmer Taylor, for medicine. They will be honored at a special ceremony Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, at the California Center for the Arts, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido.
Other honorees include Dr. Anand Srivastava and Deven Petel, business enterprise; Dr. Alexander Chuang, global outreach; Dr. Charles Nguyen, opportunity in education, and Dr. Marissa Pei, entrepreneurship. In addition, California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins will be honored as this year’s Diversity Pioneer. San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts is serving as gala chairman.
A EUREKA MOMENT THAT SAVED MILLIONS
Working at the National Cancer Institute under Dr. Rogert Gallo in the early 1980s, Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal, then only a few years out of UCLA, cloned the HIV virus, paving the way for the first genetic map of the infective agent and the development of HIV blood tests.
In 1990, the Institute for Scientific Information recognized Dr. Wong-Staal as the top woman scientist of the previous decade. That same year, she returned to UCSD to continue her AIDS research. Four years later, the university created a new Center for AIDS Research with Dr. Wong-Staal as its chairman. In 2002, she retired from UCSD and now holds the title of Professor Emerita. In addition, she is co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of iTherX where she researches treatment for Hepatitis C.
Born in China and emigrating to Hong Kong in 1952, science was not an avocation. However, encouraged by nuns from the Catholic school she attended and her father, she decided that would be her pursuit.
Dr. Wong-Staal has said: “You need to have a passion for making discoveries because this is the most rewarding aspect of a scientific career. Eureka moments are few and far between.”
Approximately 270,000 children still die each year from HIV-related causes – not to mention adults. Without Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal’s “eureka moment,” it’s hard to imagine what the toll would be.
SAVING PLANET EARTH
An atmospheric scientist cited for fundamental contributions to our modern understanding of climate change, Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan was the first to discover the greenhouse effect of halocarbons and to predict global warming.
Born in Madurai, India, at the age of 11 he moved with his family to Bangalore. Unfortunately, the classes at the school he attended were taught in English and not his native Tamil, so he “lost the habit of listening to my teachers and had to figure out things on my own,” he recalled. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in India, he arrived in 1970 in the United States to study interferometry -- the analysis of electromagnetic waves -- at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Dr. Ramanathan’s first major findings were in the mid-1970s and were related to the greenhouse effect of CFCs (clorofluorocarbons). Until that time, carbon dioxide was thought to be the sole greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.
Dr. Ramanathan has also studied the impact of climate change on agriculture in India and in March 2007 co-authored a white paper on Project Surya (“sun” in Sanskrit), in which inexpensive solar cookers will replace highly polluting “cookstoves” traditionally employed in rural India. This byproduct of biofuel cooking and biomass burning is a significant contributor to global warming, and results from the project will document the reductions in carbon dioxide and soot emissions.
In 2002, he was elected to the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Sciences and 12 years later was asked to organize the 2014 Vatican meeting on “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature” attended by social and natural scientists, philosophers and policy makers.
BRIDGING WORLDS: MUSIC AND CULTURE
Tina Guo began piano lessons and studying music when she was 3 years old. At five, after emigrating from China to the United States with her family, she took up the violin under the tutelage of her mother. Two years later, her father, Lu-Yan Guo, a musician and opera singer, began teaching her cello, the instrument that took center stage in her life.
Now 27, she has become a true international artist, whose innovation is personified by her performances on classical cello as well as rock and heavy metal fusion in its electrical form. Equally at home playing the Vivaldi Concerto in C minor for Cello, Harpsichord, and Strings as she is performing alongside Carlos Santana and India Arie, she produces her own shows, composes music and is a published author of poetry and prose. Among her many credits, Tina was featured on electric cello in Cirque Du Soleil's Michael Jackson "The Immortal" World Tour and has appeared on numerous television commercials .
When Courtney Love used her on the album “Nobody’s Daughter,” she told Rolling Stone magazine: "The cello that you hear is a really hot Chinese girl with an amazing rack and insanely good hair who is a heavy metal goddess on cello, Tina Guo."
Tina has said: “I ache to show you what is inside my heart. I ache to be understood. I ache for all of us to understand our humanity. I ache to tell the world an eternal story. Watch me,hear me pray in the only way I know how.”
MEETING AUTISM’S CHALLENGE
The research of Dr. Palmer Taylor, who co-founded the Skaggs School of Pharmacy at UCSD, is related to the structure, recognition capacity, and regulation of expression of proteins governing neurotransmission in junctions between cells called cholinergic synapses.
He was part of the group who cloned the first acetylcholinesterase (AChE) gene over 20 years ago, and this was followed by analysis of its genomic DNA to delineate regulatory regions, the multiple splicing options and gene expression profiles in nerve and muscle. His work provided the basis for collaborative studies employing freeze-frame, click chemistry while the very biological target itself (AChE) is used as the template in the synthesis of high affinity, selective inhibitors.
Through collaborative endeavors, Dr. Taylor's group has uncovered much of what is known about the structure of neuroligin, a synaptic adhesion molecule homologous to AChE. As a result, structural studies on neuroligin have recognized alterations in processing and folding associated with mutations found in the autistic spectral disorders. For his collaborative efforts working with French scientists, Dr. Taylor has been awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest national decoration.
CHARTING A BRAVE NEW WORLD
Dr. Anand Srivastava and Deven Patel are co-founders of GIOSTAR (Global Institute of Stem Cell Therapy and Research), a leading stem cell therapy and research institute headquartered in San Diego. The company was founded to aid those suffering from debilitating health conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke, spinal cord injuries, cancer and diabetes. The company’s Regenerative Medicine program provides promise for treatments of diseases previously regarded as incurable.
Dr. Srivastava is regarded as a pioneer in the research of stem cell therapy and has long been associated with major academic and scientific institutions, including UCSD, UCLA and the Salk Research Institute. His work also extends to the research of cancer and gene therapy.
Mr. Patel’s role has been to take Dr. Srivastava’s research and create cell transplant programs with several state governments in India and to launch collaborative efforts with several other countries to establish treatment centers. Under his leadership, GIOSTAR has dedicated a state-of-the-art stem cell treatment hospital in Ahmedabad, India, and is planning additional facilities in China, Thailand, Dubai, the Philippines, Brazil, Sweden, Turkey and the Bahamas.
“While stem cell therapy is on the verge of revolution in parts of Asia, it is still regarded in some U.S. medical circles as risky and under the process of development,” said Dr. Srivastava. Recognizing the controversy that has surrounded the use of embryonic stem cells, Dr. Srivastava added that research has been complemented by the use of cells reprogrammed from mature adult cells that give it back the properties of an embryonic stem cell, thus alleviating the controversy.
CREATING A CULTURAL CORNERSTONE
“Never weary of learning, never tire of teaching” are words that characterize the life of Dr. Alexander Chuang, co-founder and executive director of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.
Alexander Chuang graduated from National Taiwan University with a degree in mechanical engineering and received a Ph.D in structural dynamics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he also served as a lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering for two years. After arriving in California, he became president of the San Diego Chinese Historical Society, founded in 1986. As president in the 1990s, he, along with community leaders Sally Wong and Tom Hom, initiated a plan to establish a museum in a historic San Diego building known as the Chinese Mission.
Since then, the museum has presented more than 47 exhibits highlighting the rich tradition of Chinese culture and history in San Diego and the world. Since 1998, museum education and outreach programs have also brought history to local schools and community organizations. Today the museum has become the cornerstone of San Diego’s Asian Pacific Historic District as it occupies two buildings – the renovated Chinese Mission and a contemporary ground floor space across the street in downtown San Diego.
ENGINEERING A NEW LIFE
Growing up in Da Nang, Vietnam, in the 1960s, the frontlines of war were a daily occurrence for Dr. Charles Nguyen. “We were rich enough to build a bunker under our house. Typically, every morning we would come up and it would happen that the next house was gone because it was bombarded. Neighbors, gone. I still have nightmares about that,” recalls the dean of the School of Engineering at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Nguyen eventually made his way to Germany to study electrical engineering before emigrating to the U.S. After graduating from George Washington University with a Master’s and Doctorate in electrical engineering, he was hired at CUA where he worked his way up through the ranks to become chair, and eventually dean—a position he has held since 2001. He remains, the only Vietnamese-American dean at any U.S. college or university. When Dr. Nguyen first assumed the role of dean, the school of engineering was faltering amid low enrollments (approximately 175 students). Through targeted marketing, both domestically and abroad, he has nearly tripled the department’s size.
Dr. Nguyen was also part of a collaborative research team that developed an independent robotic arm and hand system that could handle the many exacting tasks of construction in space, then adapted the system for use in minimally invasive spinal surgeries and for breast surgeries, working with Georgetown University to pioneer surgical techniques that today are commonplace. He subsequently published widely on the subject of medical robotics.
HOPE AND THE ASIAN OPRAH
With a doctorate in organizational psychology, Dr. Marissa Pei has been speaking to and coaching hundreds of organizations, including Fortune 100 companies like Johnson & Johnson, Wells Fargo, AT&T, Mattel, UPS, and Bank of America for the past 21 years.
As a recovering over-achiever, she has parlayed her professional experience onto television as a “talking shrink head” on a number of ABC, Discovery, Learning Channel and Fox TV specials, commenting on why people do weird things at work and other interesting human dynamics. As host of her own radio show called “Take My Advice I'm Not Using It," her rapidly growing audience has earned her the title “the Asian Oprah.”
On her radio show, she talks about hope and positive life-affirming experiences, rejecting negative viewpoints that always end with “What’s wrong with people?” Instead she encourages people to live their lives with more joy and less stress, especially with these turbulent times, and answers the question “What is right with people?”
A true entrepreneur, Dr. Pei is also the best-selling author of two books “Organization Development and Consulting”, a regular graduate business text, and “Mommy what are Feelings”, a children´s book that her daughters illustrated when they were 5 and 7. And she has written songs and created a fashion line of pants and gifts that promote her motto: “Live, Love, Laugh, Learn.”
TRUE DIVERSITY PIONEER
Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins has served in the California State Assembly since 2010 and was elevated to the top leadership post in 2014, when her colleagues unanimously elected her 69th Speaker of the California Assembly.
Speaker Atkins proudly represents the people of coastal San Diego, from Imperial Beach, along the Mexican border, north to Solana Beach, and most of central San Diego. She previously served eight years on the San Diego City Council, and became a stabilizing force during a tumultuous period in 2005, stepping in as Acting Mayor after the resignation of the mayor.
Speaker Atkins is a coalition-builder who believes government policies can improve people's lives and is a leading voice for affordable housing, a powerful advocate for women, and champion for veterans, homeless people and diversity in all its forms.
She earned her bachelor's degree in political science from Emory & Henry College, and completed the senior executive program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The Eleventh Annual Asian Heritage Awards will be held Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. To attend and for more information, go to www.asianheritageawards.com