Wednesday, 06 September 2017 11:38

In Memoriam: C.C. Wang

We mourn the loss of Ching-Chung (“C.C.”) Wang who recently passed away after a long and, in typical C.C. fashion, determined fight with cancer. C.C. was a major force in the field of molecular parasitology and someone we all enjoyed both as an energetic and devoted friend and as a critical colleague whose phenomenal intellect enabled him to see things the rest of us missed.

C.C. was born in Beijing in 1936 and, after a challenging childhood during the Japanese occupation of China, moved to Taipei, Taiwan, with the Nationalists in 1947. There, he attended high school and college, majoring in Chemistry at National Taiwan University. After fulfilling his military obligation as an Air Force mechanic in Taiwan, C.C. came to the University of California, Berkeley, for graduate studies, where he met his wife and lifelong partner in science, Alice Lee. In 1969, following postdoctoral studies at Columbia and Princeton, C.C. went to Merck as a Senior Investigator. There he worked on many projects, but with most of his focus on two: identifying new therapies for controlling the chicken parasite Eimeria, and determining the mechanism of action of an exciting new anthelminthic, ivermectin. The latter is one of the most important antiparasitic drugs ever developed, effective against a broad range of parasitic worms. Initially, it was used only in animals but it wasn’t long before it was found to be extremely safe and effective in humans, especially in the treatment of Oncocercha volvulus, the cause of river blindness. Its use has been crucial in the near-eradication of this devastating disease as well as lymphatic filariasis, and in 2015 two of the team involved in its initial identification received the Nobel Prize for its discovery. C.C., though, led the effort that showed it worked by opening chloride channels and hyperpolarizing neurons in the worms.

In 1981, C.C. was recruited out of industry and back into academia, at the University of California San Francisco, which was an unusual move for a scientist at the time. There he and Alice dove into more fascinating work on parasites, exploring purine salvage and RNA biology in the anaerobic protists Giardia and Trichomonas and in bloodstream-dwelling Trypanosoma spp. All three genera include species that are important human parasites, and this work led to many discoveries, including the identification of novel RNA viruses in Giardia and Trichomonas and a much more in-depth understanding of cell cycle control in Trypanosoma.

Image  © majedphoto.com--Ching C. Wang, PhD (2011)In addition to the innumerable scientific contributions made by C.C. and his team, C.C. was a tireless advocate for the field. He served on several bodies that were crucial to the field, including chairing the WHO Steering Committee on Chemotherapy of African Trypanosomiasis, where he used his unusual mix of academic and corporate experience to great effect. He did two stints on NIH’s Tropical Medicine and Parasitology study section, where he became well known for his ability to sort through the verbiage and see the real essence of a proposal, for better and worse! C.C. recognized that there was no high-profile journal that catered to the study of eukaryotic pathogens as a whole, i.e., including pathogenic fungi and protists. In typical advocacy mode, C.C. convinced ASM to start a new journal, Eukaryotic Cell, of which he was the founding Editor-in-Chief, to fill this gap in 2002. This journal was extremely successful but was eventually subsumed into ASM’s mSphere, where the most important papers in the field could be seen by an even broader audience. In the midst of all these other activities, C.C. somehow found time to serve as founding director of the Institute of Molecular Biology within Academica Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan.

C.C. enjoyed the interpersonal side of science as much as the science itself. He and Alice hosted the Bay Area Parasitology Club in their home on an every-other-month basis (alternating months being at Stanford) for about 25 years. At these evening events, scientists from the entire Bay Area congregated for wonderful dim sum food and a talk by a local speaker or visiting luminary. Although the slide projector was precariously balanced on books, the caliber of science was always top-notch and the grilling of the speaker typically lasted an hour-and-a-half or longer! These were like giant lab meetings with C.C. setting an exceptionally high bar for the caliber of the discussion.

C.C. had a huge smile, an infectious laugh and a true joie de vivre. While in his 50s and serving on the Board of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) in Nairobi, Kenya, he did an ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro. On the dance floor he was as tireless as in his science, and newcomers to the field would marvel as this whirling dervish spun past with more energy than most half his age.

Many awards acknowledged C.C.’s contributions to science. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and he received and honorary Doctor of Science degree from the National Yang-Ming University in Taipei.

One of the ways in which C.C. gave his all to the field of parasitology was in 2011 when he and his wife, Alice, made a very substantial contribution to the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to endow a new award in Molecular Parasitology. This kind of generosity is exceptional in science but it was typical of C.C.’s enormously giving nature.

C.C. leaves behind his brother, Peter Wang; wife Alice Lee Wang; daughter Charlotte Wang; son-in-law Shawn Fessler; grandchildren Mitchell and Alicia Fessler; and countless friends and colleagues around the world. His passing has left a void in the field of parasitology and in the lives of us all.

 

Stephen Beverley
Marvin A. Brennecke Professor and Chair
Department of Molecular Microbiology
Washington University, St. Louis, MO

John Boothroyd
Burt and Marion Avery Professor
Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA

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