Ping H. Wang, M.D., speaks softly and rarely refers to himself, preferring to give credit to everybody else.
“There is a worldwide diabetes epidemic, with more than 400 million people affected, costing $330 billion in the U.S. alone,” he declared. “The incidence of this disease has shot up in the past 20 to 30 years. It is the disease of the 21st century and if we don’t figure it out soon, the coming decades will be even worse.”
For more than 30 years, Wang has taken that alarm to heart, earning acclaim for probing the inner workings of diabetes, helping diabetic people live better lives and sounding the alarm about this exploding public health challenge. He is a respected clinician, scientist, advocate, builder and administrator.
And now he sees his next step: the real possibility of a cure for type 1 diabetes in a few years. Which is why he’s joined City of Hope’s aggressive expansion of its diabetes research and treatment programs, signing on as chair of the Department of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism.
“I felt this was an opportunity to push the medicine and the science of diabetes forward,” he explained. “City of Hope is unmatched in this area. In the past 50 to 60 years, City of Hope has been a major force in diabetes research.” He illustrated this by ticking off a handful of City of Hope’s numerous accomplishments, from the discovery of the importance of A1c by Samuel Rahbar, M.D., to Dr. the research of Arthur Riggs, Ph.D., that led to the development of synthetic insulin and monoclonal antibodies. Riggs is the Samuel Rahbar Chair in Diabetes & Drug Discovery.
Wang is eager to do his part. The feeling is mutual.
'The Total Package'
“He’s an ideal fit, and his arrival is perfectly timed,” said Debbie C. Thurmond, Ph.D., the Ruth B. & Robert K. Lanman Chair in Gene Regulation & Drug Discovery Research and director of the Arthur Riggs Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute at City of Hope, explaining that City of Hope is now in the midst of the ambitious Wanek Family Project to eradicate type 1 diabetes. The effort is entering the clinical trials phase, requiring a top diabetes clinician who also knows his way around a laboratory.
“[Dr. Wang] is the total package,” continued Thurmond. “He’s even bringing his own clinical trials with him.”
“This is an exciting time,” Wang said, comparing the current state of research to the development of mobile phone technology. In both cases, he says the key to rapid progress is putting an infrastructure in place to enable new and better innovations.
The Tools Are in Place
“We now have the tools to look deeply into the mechanism of diabetes,” he added. “We can analyze hundreds of thousands of proteins. We have gene-editing capability and computational technology. We’ve uncovered new ways to modulate the body’s immune system. We’ve seen rapid development of artificial intelligence that will ultimately make an artificial pancreas possible and enable personalized treatment for each patient.
“It’s a coming together of everything.”
It came together for Wang early in life.
Raised in Taiwan, he is the son and grandson of physicians. “All around us,” he recalled, “we knew people struggling with diabetes.” By high school he knew he wanted something “scientific” and “meaningful” for a career. At Harvard, he gravitated to the diabetes team at the Joslin Diabetes Center, where he realized he could combine his scientific curiosity with a passion for helping people.
So, which is more important? Research or patient care? His answer: Yes!
“Whatever it takes,” he emphasized. He wants to be everywhere, doing everything. His first stop will be Orange County; Newport Beach specifically, where he hopes to build a “center of excellence”: a diabetic patient care experience equal to and worthy of City of Hope’s reputation for research.
“I want to combine City of Hope’s excellence in basic research with high quality clinical services plus a clinical research program.”
In other words … the total package.
It will be a model for future growth of City of Hope’s diabetes program.
Wang is a true believer in City of Hope’s “body and soul” philosophy, acknowledging a patient’s total needs, and mindful that people skills matter every bit as much as clinical expertise.
“He has a great heart,” said Thurmond. “He has a deep commitment to patients and colleagues and he inspires loyalty and respect from them. He’s logical, fair-minded, and his vision is appropriate and right-sized."
“Everybody has a role,” Wang said. “Scientists, administrators, patients. Everyone at City of Hope is so helpful and enthusiastic about advancing the medicine and the science.
“And when we all come together as a unit, we will make good things happen.”