Graduate student receives inaugural fellowship to conduct lung cancer research

July 29, 2021

Zitong Gao

Zitong Gao, an outstanding Molecular Bioscience and Bioengineering PhD candidate, has received a three-year fellowship to study lung cancer at the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center. The fellowship, sponsored by the Friends of the UH Cancer Center and Clinical Labs of Hawaiʻi, was established in 2021 to support a doctoral student with a focus on cancer research.

“Clinical Labs of Hawaiʻi is very proud to partner with the UH Cancer Center to support scientific research in Hawaiʻi,” said Clinical Labs of Hawaiʻi President Ally Park. “It is important for us all to invest in ourselves, keep our talent in Hawaiʻi, and promote healthcare and research amongst our unique and diverse population.”

Applicants were students from various programs at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa including Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Public Health Studies. The top candidate was chosen using the following criteria: topic relevance to cancer prevention or control, stated interest in cancer research, research skills, and mentor evaluation.

"As a nonprofit whose purpose is to support and promote the UH Cancer Center, the Friends is so very pleased to partially underwrite this program, which will lead to impactful research and also foster researcher talent and growth," said Monica McLaren, board president of the Friends of UH Cancer Center. "We are excited to support Zitong Gao’s journey and to see how it will lead to better health for us all."

Gao’s record of having 12 peer-reviewed publications, five of which she was the first author, set her apart from other applicants and confirmed her potential as a future researcher. She has shown high productivity in terms of publications, and great success in converting data into quality research conclusions.

“It is such a big surprise and honor for me to be the first recipient of this fellowship,” said Gao. “Most lung cancer cases are diagnosed at later stages when treatment options are less likely to be curative. I hope my research results can be used to work towards earlier detection of the disease to increase its overall survival rate.”

Throughout her fellowship, Gao will conduct research on biomarkers with the aim of revealing possible mechanisms in lung cancer development. She hopes to advance strategies for early detection and the prediction of distant metastases.

For many years, lung cancer has been the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and Hawaiʻi. In 2019, the National Cancer Institute reported 139,603 people died of lung cancer, while from 2012 to 2016, approximately 541 people died annually from the disease in the state. Findings from Gao’s research may help in finding ways to decrease lung cancer incidence and mortality throughout Hawaiʻi and beyond.


About the Friends of the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center

The Friends of the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to support and promote the efforts of the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center. Our goal is to generate community support for the Cancer Center in its efforts to find cures for cancer, to educate the people of Hawaiʻi on cancer prevention and to improve the quality of life of those diagnosed with cancer. To fulfill our mission and goal, the Friends is actively involved in raising awareness in our community of the excellent and unique research taking place at the Center and supporting Center programs, staff, clinical trial patients and others who are furthering that research. We seek broad-based support from the community and welcome those who would like to join our effort.

About Clinical Labs of Hawaiʻi

Clinical Labs of Hawaiʻi (CLH) and Pan Pacific Pathologists were founded in 1971 by Dr Moon S. Park. Upon completion of his pathology training at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Park brought his vision of providing quality laboratory testing to the healthcare providers and patients of Hawaiʻi to reality by opening his first laboratory in Hilo. Today, Clinical Labs of Hawaiʻi has more than 850 employees and 50+ locations throughout the Hawaiian islands. The focus and vision have remained the same; quality patient care with best in class technology and service.