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Li Jingmei

Scientist and groundbreaking cancer researcher

Who is Li Jingmei? 

Doctor Li Jingmei had always loved puzzles. It was the puzzle of cancer that led her into a career where she would try to find a cure for the most common cancer in women. “I’m a puzzle person,” she explains. “In science you set up by asking a question, you think about different solutions and you try to find answers to a problem. Science is all about tackling problems that are relevant. Whatever expertise we have, we help.” Doctor Jingmei explores genetics to help define risk factors for breast cancer, combining different genetic markers to identify an individual’s risk. By studying so many different markers, she can get very specific, determining that one individual’s risk could even be five times higher than that of someone else. 

“We have found so many markers for breast cancer by combining all these different markers – the sum of all these tiny differences,” Jingmei says. “It’s actually something like a personal jigsaw puzzle.” Risk factors include body mass index and breast density. Ethnicity can also be incredibly important. Only 14% of genetic breast cancer studies have involved Asians, who tend to have different lifestyles and risk factors to Europeans.

Jingmei says screening programs should be more specialized based on experience, such as giving mammograms to all women older than 50 every two years.  “I think what we can aim to do is actually change this screening program, so that it’s more efficient,” she says. “I’m following people who, if they are at high risk, should go for screening when they are younger. Some of the categories are women who are very low risk who maybe can be screened every three years.”

She has learned that as well as research, there are other things that can be done. For instance, meeting other people! Public speaking and introducing can be difficult, but when it comes to educating others about such an important issue, it’s a must!  “I’ve done three TEDx talks,” she says, adding that she is not entirely comfortable with such big audiences. “I get nervous breakdowns before every time, but I think it’s a must.”

3 Things We Love About Li Jingmei? 

  • She has won several prestigious awards for this work, including a Singapore Young Scientist Award! 
  • She was taught that to achieve change through science you need to grab the interest of people and make a message relatable.
  • Li’s laboratory readily answered the call to find solutions to COVID-19.

Work Cited

Jingmei Li: preventing breast cancer – The Brilliant 

Li Jingmei – Asian Scientist Magazine

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