NCV alumnus, Dr Sheau-Fang Ng, has recently had a paper published in Nature. This is an immense honour for Sheau-Fang and recognition of the quality and significance of her work. The article in Nature was titled “Chronic high-fat diet in fathers programs β-cell dysfunction in female rat offspring”. Following the release of this publication, Sheau-Fang’s research attracted a lot of interest from the scientific community, as well as from the media around the world.
Sheau-Fang studied Medicine and Paediatrics at the National University of Malaysia(UKM) and later specialised in Endocrinology. She then worked at the endocrine unit in the UKM Medical Center in Malaysia, was actively involved in setting up a child obesity clinic together with other colleagues, and at the same time looking after children with diabetes and other hormonal diseases. Obesity is difficult to treat and seeing many conventional programs used in the clinic fail, was a catalyst for Sheau-Fang to want to undertake a PhD. “Life became routine working in the clinic and I wanted to do something different to help people with obesity but couldn’t investigate in humans,” says Sheau-Fang. “I chose to do my PhD at the University of New South Wales to be under the supervision of Professor Morris, whose laboratory had already carried out extensive research into maternal obesity programming. This seemed sensible as I was interested in expanding the research to paternal obesity programming.”
At the Malaysian clinic, Sheau-Fang had observed that many of her patients had two parents who were obese. It is well established that poor health of a mother during pregnancy can detrimentally affect the health of her child. However, Sheau-Fang began to question whether obese fathers also have a role in programming obesity and affecting health of their children. Sheau-Fang is extraordinarily thankful to her supervisor and the other scientists in the team for this collaborative work.
“We set up a simple model using rats to investigate how a father’s health can affect their offspring”, explains Sheau-Fang. “Male rats were fed a high-fat diet and mated with healthy females to generate offspring. We then fed their female offspring a normal diet. To our surprise, these female offspring weren’t obese or fatter than the controls, but they had abnormal glucose handling. This is the first report showing that a father’s high fat diet alone can initiate progression to diabetes in his offspring.” Conducting her research at UNSW has been a wonderful experience for Sheau-Fang and she has particularly enjoyed being exposed to a lot of new laboratory technology.
Sheau-Fang found out about NCV even before the building had been fully built and as a new arrival to Australia she watched its development keenly. In 2009, Sheau-Fang lived and worked as a residential tutor at NCV. In this role she provided pastoral care to residents living on the 1st floor and academic support to the wider NCV community. She was an active participant in NCV Research Seminars and College Services. Sheau-Fang says, “My time at NCV has been a highlight of living in Australia. I love how people at NCV encourage each other and some pray together. It was great being able to have friends over for dinner”. Barbequed pancakes for breakfast and residents gathering for pot-luck dinners are some of the memories of living at NCV that will stay with Sheau-Fang. “I have built friendships with people from different parts of the world and learnt a lot from living in the community”, she says with delight.
Looking back on the past few years Dr Sheau-Fang Ng says, “It has been such an honour, and I feel so privileged to be able to make some breakthroughs in research whilst living with such wonderful people.” The future for Sheau-Fang is full of bright possibilities as she moves towards completing her PhD.