Faculty Focus

Luo, Yi

Yi Luo, MD, PhD, MS

What is your hometown?

Shanghai, China

When did you join the University of Iowa faculty?

March 2004

How/when did you become interested in science and medicine?

I was interested in physics when I was in middle high school. After high school, I left my hometown and lived in the countryside for a few years. During that period of my life, I experienced the lack of health care for people in remote areas, and developed a desire to learn medicine.

What interested you to pursue a career in Urology?

After completion of my PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, in 1994, it was fortuitous that my career path directed me into the field of urology where I was intrigued by the challenges of improving treatments for some urological diseases. I became interested in Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) immunotherapy of bladder cancer shortly after I started my postdoctoral training in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

It was in 1996 when I received an American Foundation for Urologic Diseases (AFUD) PhD Scholarship, that I decided to pursue my career in urology.

Is there a teacher or mentor who helped shape your career?

Dr. Migrate Krause, my PhD mentor, taught me fundamental molecular biology. Dr. Michael O’Donnell, my postdoctoral mentor, trained me in cancer immunotherapy. Dr. O’Donnell also served as a mentor for my AFUD PhD Scholarship Program during 1996 to 1998.

How or why did you choose the University of Iowa?

I came to the University of Iowa with Dr. O’Donnell when he joined the University of Iowa Department of Urology in 2000.

The University of Iowa’s faculty members are united to provide exceptional patient care while advancing innovations in research and medical education. How does your work help translate new discoveries into patient-centered care and education?

As a basic science researcher working in the field of urology, I have mainly focused on translational studies to identify the pathological mechanisms of some urological diseases. Novel therapies require mechanistic insights that are difficult to glean from clinical studies alone. Animal studies using clinically relevant models are critical for deciphering the mechanisms of the human diseases. During the past decade, my lab has developed and validated a panel of preclinical animal models for bladder cancer and interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS). We have used these models to investigate the pathological mechanisms and develop novel therapies for bladder cancer and IC/BPS. My goal is to incorporate the findings from our basic/translational studies into the design of clinical efforts to improve the therapeutic interventions for the human diseases.

What kinds of professional opportunities or advantages does being a faculty member at an academic medical center provide?

Being a faculty member, I have access to many academic opportunities ranging from basic to clinical science, including grant proposal development, lab resource sharing, conference participation, internal/external collaborations, etc.

Please describe your professional interests.

As a basic science researcher working in the field of urology, I am interested in both basic and translational studies that can lead to improved treatments for urological diseases. Currently, my work involves the development of animal models for IC/BPS, one of the most difficult diseases to treat in urology today. We will use these models to identify the pathological mechanisms of bladder inflammation and key symptomatology (pain and urinary symptoms) seen in IC/BPS patients. We will also use these models to develop new mechanistically directed therapies for the human disease. In addition, I have also worked on the development of new treatments for bladder cancer. To date, we have developed a dozen genetically manipulated new BCG strains and tested BCG in combination with multiple agents for the treatment of bladder cancer in preclinical animal models. These new BCG strains and treatment modalities hold great promise as improved therapeutic interventions for bladder cancer patients.

What led to your interest in urology?

The challenges to improve treatments for bladder cancer and IC/BPS.

How does working in a collaborative and comprehensive academic medical center benefit your work?

Working as a faculty member in the CCOM benefits my research in many ways including grant proposal development, material sharing, knowledge exchanges, etc. Indeed, my past and current research grants have been developed based on collaborations with quite a few colleagues inside and outside the Department of Urology.

What are some of your outside interests?

Traveling, dog walking, and ping-pong games.

Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your professional work?

I believe that one will gain success in his/her career if he/she maintains persistence, hard work, and a positive attitude.

If you could change one thing about the world (or the world of medicine/science), what would it be?

Access to affordable healthcare for everyone.

What is the biggest change you've experienced in your field since you were a student?

Digitalization for almost all aspects of science, such as study design, data analysis, online journals, PubMed, etc.

What one piece of advice would you give to today's students?

Having a mentor will certainly benefit your academics and career development.

What do you see as "the future" of medicine/science?

With continuing progress in medicine/science, we will conquer many of today’s refractory diseases. To achieve better patient care, we will need to expand basic/translational research to understand more about the pathological mechanisms of human diseases.