Discoveries Magazine

Cedars-Sinai

Life & Science: Shelly Lu, MD

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Photo: John Livzey

Dr. Shelly Lu is back. She first arrived at Cedars-Sinai as a resident in internal medicine. Twenty-five years later, she has earned a distinguished position in her field, attracted the acclaim of her peers, and built a life philosophy that she is putting to work as the new director of Cedars-Sinai’s Division of Gastroenterology.

Q. Did you always want a career in medicine?

A: I’m Chinese and grew up in Taiwan. My mother wanted me to pursue medicine, but, as a rebellious kid, I said no. My father is a poet, and I love music and literature. But when I attended UCLA, my English was horrible. I majored in biology instead, and then I went into medicine because it gave me the most choices. That’s my philosophy: Don’t close any doors.

Q. What drew you to research?

A: The first six months I spent in a lab, I absolutely hated it. Basic lab work is grueling — most of the time, the findings are not positive. But after learning to adapt to that pace, I started to get interesting findings. You get to play Sherlock Holmes, work on the cutting edge, and solve problems to discover the inner workings of disease.

Q. What is most exciting about leading this division?

A: When I accepted this position, Cedars-Sinai didn’t have its own gastrointestinal fellowship program — it was in partnership with UCLA. Creating a fellowship program was my No. 1 priority, and we’ve done it! Our first three fellows started this summer. We will become an academic powerhouse to match our clinical expertise: I’d like to see us in the top five in the nation in a few years. I’m impatient to see it happen!

Q. Can many of your research projects lead to clinical applications and treatments?

A: Absolutely. Fatty liver, for instance, is the major cause of liver disease globally. More than 60 percent of U.S. adults are overweight, and the majority of those have fatty liver. The condition can progress to a more severe form associated with fibrosis, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. We recently recruited Mazen Noureddin, MD, to start a fatty liver research program. We are working to discover the basic mechanisms of nonalcoholic fatty liver to develop biomarkers to identify patients with the more severe form of the disease and to personalize treatment. Cedars-Sinai has fantastic scientists for me to collaborate with. We are looking at SAMe, which is widely available as a dietary supplement. It’s also made naturally in the body. Research in animals has shown that SAMe may be effective in preventing liver and colon cancer. We’re going to look at a group of patients who have a gene mutation that puts them at very high risk of colon cancer to see if SAMe can reduce cancer development. If so, it will be a wonderful achievement!

Q. You seem very positive and self-motivated. What’s your philosophy?

A: If my gut tells me it will be okay, I go with the flow. I’m at an age and a stage in my career when it’s time to take up new challenges. Life is short, so you do the best you can — and whatever you achieve, it’s good enough. Hopefully, that life philosophy is rubbing off on my kids.


Shelly Lu, MD

Expertise
Gastroenterology and liver diseases

Mentor
Neil Kaplowitz, MD, chief, Division of Gastroenterology and Liver Diseases, Keck School of Medicine, USC

Daughters
Two. They are passionate about the arts and are planning careers in medicine.

Husband
Lawrence Maldonado, MD, faculty in Internal Medicine, Cedars-Sinai; art buff

Granted
Five active National Institutes of Health–funded Research Project Grants, or R01s. Most investigators are thrilled to win one R01, never mind five.

Extra Credits
Poised to become senior associate editor at Gastroenterology, the field’s leading journal

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