Flossie Wong-Staal: Brilliant Scientist

And here we have another wonderful article on a scientist that changed the game in the 70’s: Flossie Wong-Staal. 📝

With her research and hard work, she was able to clone the HIV virus that would eventually lead her to work on developing drugs against hepatitis C. Wong-Staal’s cloning of the virus was not only a very important step in her own career but in the whole process of detecting the causes of AIDS and being able to contain the spread of it. Even though her work is widely known, we want to highlight this brilliant researcher. Flossie is one of the many women who contribute to the scientific field, but many have not received credit for their work. Wong-Staal luckily did receive the credit she deserves.🔬🦠🧬

Make sure to check out the article, if you want to get to know Flossie Wong-Staal and her work a little better.

Flossie Wong-Staal | *27-08-1946 | † 08-07-2020 | USA | Virologist, Molecular biologist

Flossie Wong was born under the name Wong Yee Ching in Guangzhou, China in 1946. She decided to change her name after being encouraged to continue her studies in the United States. Her dad renamed her Flossie after a typhoon that had struck South-East Asia at the time. 

Unlike the other women in her family, Flossie did not work in the household but excelled in school when she and her family fled to Hong-Kong after the communist revolution. In Hong-Kong she attended the Maryknoll Convent School which was a girl’s school run by American nuns. Her parents and teachers supported her academic pursuits. This led to her obtaining a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology at the University of California, cum laude and within three years. She went on to earn a P.h.D. at the same university. 

According to Wong-Staal, molecular biology was an exciting science in the 1970’s, because of the development of new techniques such as cloning and the possibility to study genes in detail. All of her hard work and studying, would lead her to become the first person to clone HIV, in 1985. The cloning process led to the possibility of mapping out the virus’ genome, helping to develop blood tests which could detect HIV. Her cloning of the HIV thus was a significant step towards getting to know the virus better and proving that HIV causes AIDS. This also helped to develop medicine and techniques to keep the illness from killing more and more people.

She started her career at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in the United States. In 1982, she became chief of the section ‘molecular genetics of hematopoietic cells’ here. In 1990 she was appointed to the Florence Riford chair of AIDS research at the University of California, San Diego. Towards the end of her career, Wong-Staal used her experience in HIV/AIDS to better understand hepatitis C. She became the chief scientific officer of biotechnology firm Immusol to develop drugs against hepatitis C.

In 1997, Wong-Staal said to the NIH in an interview: “AIDS research has been very beneficial to basic research. From this model, this system, we gained a lot of insights into basic molecular biology and virology and immunology.”

Unfortunately, on July 8th 2020, the world lost this great scientist at the age of 73. She is remembered as a brilliant scientist, as well as a resilient person with a competitive nature. This competitive nature was useful in the world of research, while it also found an outlet on the dance floor. Later in her life, Wong-Staal became an accomplished ballroom dancer. Her research is remembered as fundamental in developing better treatments and improving quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. 


Author: Amanda Winnemuller
Image: NCI Visual Online


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