Dr. Jingsong Zhou

Expert Exchange

What Sparks a Lifelong Passion? 

What inspires someone to choose a certain career path? What sparks a passion that compels them to dedicate a life to one aspiration? For many it’s a life changing event or a person that enters their life, changes their perspective, and ignites a desire to find a solution; to make a difference. For Dr. Jingsong Zhou, it was a colleague of her mother’s whose struggle with ALS affected her so greatly she has dedicated her life to searching for answers to this devastating disease.

The human body’s ability to move is controlled by the neuromuscular system, made up of the brain, nerves, and muscles. ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is a disease that attacks the neuromuscular system. When the disease happens the neuromuscular function will shut off, halting one’s ability to walk, run, eat, or even breathe. The exact cause is unknown and there is no cure for the disease.

Dr. Zhou was first exposed to the effects of this disease during her second year of medical school. Her mother, a college professor, approached her for help when a fellow professor was diagnosed with ALS.  Wanting to assist, she sought guidance and answers from the doctors at her medical school. During her summer break, she went back to her home town and visited with her mother’s colleague. She was shocked by what she found.  In just a few months, he could barely stand after the rapid deterioration of his muscles. With a passion for finding answers, Dr. Zhou pursued a career in research following medical school in hopes of finding solutions to diseases rather than only treating them. Throughout her career, this man’s suffering has remained imprinted on her mind and continues to inspire her.

In her research, Dr. Zhou and her team work to understand the cause and progression of ALS. The majority of ALS research is focused on either why the motor neuron die or on muscle physiology. Her team is unique because they are interested in looking at the communication between the muscle and motor neuron and between the muscle and bone. They are focusing on the cross talk between them early in the disease to better understand ALS progression and its onset.

Inspiration sparks in many ways but it’s often a personal impact that sustains a passion throughout one’s career. For Dr. Zhou, she still feels a deep sadness at the thought of her mother’s colleague and it’s that memory that drives her search for answers. At this point in the treatment of ALS, medicine can only extend a patient’s life for a few months. With this in mind, Dr. Zhou’s passion is evident as she expresses the desperate need for novel approaches to identify the cause and ways of treating ALS.