Rotary Global Scholar Karen Tai speaks to Lake Houston Rotary about her lab studies and her upcoming attendance at Oxford University.
Karen Tai, Rotary Global Scholar, spoke to members of the Rotary Club of Lake Houston Area at its weekly luncheon meeting on June 23 at the Lake Houston Family YMCA in Kingwood.
An aspiring physician-scientist, Ms. Tai recently graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with a Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.
She is preparing to study Global Health Science and Epidemiology at Oxford University in the United Kingdom with financial help from Lake Houston Rotary and a matching grant from Oxford.
Her Global Scholar focus is on Disease Prevention and Treatment, which is one of the six areas of focus for Rotary. Her studies will be directed at prevention and treatment of cancers and will include training in health policy and leadership.
Although she was born in Shanghai and has lived in several different states, Ms. Tai calls Houston her home as she has lived here for 17 years and attended school at Beckendorff Junior High in Katy.
While attending school in Katy she was part of a team of students who won the 2014 Science Olympiad National Tournament championship. She credited this experience with sparking her interest in medicine.
During her talk she expressed a scientific interest in the intersection between biotechnology, medicine, and social policy, especially with respect to the development of affordable treatments for cancer and affordable access to healthcare. She hopes to help develop more ways to prevent cancers as opposed to just treating them after the fact.
She has conducted research at several institutions including MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. At MIT, Karen worked with a team of researchers and uncovered the mechanism by which pancreatic cancer drives tissue wasting in clinical patients.
This work was later published in Nature, with Ms. Tai as a co-author. At Yale, Karen developed a novel imaging technology to characterize metabolic profiles for cancer cells with varying mutations.
When asked what we can do individually to prevent cancer she replied, “Eat in moderation. Nutrition has been under explored.” “Also”, she added, “always wear sunscreen to prevent skin cancer.”
“Stress can be a factor too,” she said. “It can change our metabolism. Stress produces a chemical reaction in our bodies that can interfere with how the body works.”
Although Ms. Tai spends a significant amount of her time in the laboratory, she devotes her weekends to volunteering at HAVEN Free Clinic, a student-run clinic servicing the undocumented and uninsured. She has been a volunteer for four years in the social services department, where she helps patients secure access to lifesaving medications, debt-free medical care, free grocery delivery, and rent assistance.
She is a firm believer in addressing health from multiple dimensions, including the social, and aspires to craft effective measures to improve access to quality healthcare in under-resourced communities at home and abroad.
After Oxford she hopes to attend medical school.
The Rotary Club of Lake Houston Area members and guests meet 11:45 a.m. Wednesdays for their weekly lunch meeting at the Lake Houston Family YMCA, 2420 West Lake Houston Pkwy in Kingwood. For more information about Rotary, visit .