Hands made for suture and science
Associate Professor of Surgery
College of Medicine
Dr. Emina Huang set off to college to perfect her skills as a concert pianist, but a first-semester genetics course—”taken early to get the science requirement out of the way”—revealed an intellectual strength. However, even as she switched to studying medicine, her role as a surgeon was not yet apparent.
Then she met a faculty surgeon who shared her love for music. Dr. Luther Cobb happened to be married to one of a handful of female surgeons at the time. His mentorship guided her career path to surgery.
Huang said surgery was a good opportunity to blend her manual dexterity skills and the drive and focus she developed throughout her years of practicing piano with her inquisitiveness about science and medicine.
Surgeons use data to make an assessment, operate, and evaluate their results—all with the goal of helping somebody to either live or improve their quality of life.
Huang uses her hands not just to cut and suture, but for laboratory work aimed at trying to better understand the origin of diseases she battles.
Her choice to specialize in colorectal surgery created a perfect opportunity to marry her scientific interest in inflammation and its impact on a disease many of her patients face. Patients with chronic inflammation of the colon, or colitis, have a 30-fold risk of developing colon cancer.
Huang, who joined UF in 2008, is working with colon cancer stem cells to better determine their role in the onset and recurrence of cancer. These cells also are more resilient to conventional treatments, so a better understanding of the target could result in more effective therapies. Her work is evolving to examine not just these potential “seeds” of the disease, but how their environment—the “soil” of the colon—may play a role in determining who may develop cancer and who may not.
“Is it the seed, is it the soil, or is it their interaction?” said Huang. “We think it is probably both.” But until answers are determined, Huang will continue to orchestrate her symphony of suture and science to develop novel and innovative strategies to improve patient care.