Flossie Wong-Staal, 黄以静 (1946-2020)
Guangzhou, Guangdong, Republic of China
Who can fight a rapidly cloning virus? Flossie Wong-Staal, a virologist and molecular biologist. She was the first scientist to figure out the genetic function of HIV and how to clone the virus itself, thus later proving that HIV is the cause of AIDS.
After fleeing to Hong Kong in 1952 with her family due to the Communist revolution, she began studying biology in school. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from UCLA, Wong-Staal began working for the National Cancer Institute studying retroviruses. Through her research on gene therapy and looking at the effects of Tat protein, she was able to find how HIV cloned itself. She noticed HIV cells grew to form similar Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions (red masses on the skin) to that of AIDS.
Her research and discovery helped further the development of treatment for HIV/AIDS. While Wong-Staal was completing her research, she was also raising her two daughters. She found a way to balance being a mother as well as a scientist. Wong-Staal went on to serve as the Florence Riford Chair in AIDS Research at UCSD and after retirement, became the chief scientist officer of the drug development company, Immusol (iTherX Pharmaceuticals) which focused on Hepatitis C. Although her name might not be familiar, her work on cloning viruses is prominent in today’s fight of COVID-19.