Pui Yan Ho

Pui Yan Ho
"Therapeutic knockdown of disease-causing genes"

This interview was conducted in spring 2017, when Pui Yan Ho was a Keller Pathway Fellow.

A predoctoral candidate in the Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (BMCDB) graduate group, Pui Yan Ho earned her B.S. in biotechnology at UC Davis. She is passionate about molecular biology and the advancement of feasible pharmaceuticals using cell machinery.

In 2013, prior to beginning graduate studies, Pui Yan represented UC Davis in an international bioengineering research competition. “iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) provided the opportunity to meet an inspiring mentor, a group of motivated developing scientists and the enlightenment to pursue graduate school,” she says. Her team project addressed a growing problem in the Pacific Gyre, where multiple ocean currents meet to deposit massive quantities of trash. “We engineered a bacterium capable of degrading plastics, mainly PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the primary component of plastic bottles,” she says. The team advanced to the international jamboree held at MIT, receiving honorable mention for its project’s entrepreneurial track.

In a nutshell, describe your project or venture.

I am developing recombinant RNAs as a new class of cancer therapeutics, for improved efficacy and lower toxicity.

What’s important about your research or project—and where do you hope to take it?

We recently founded a company—AimRNA Inc. around this concept. We hope to use this technology to develop bioengineered RNAs as a research tool and potential therapeutic.

What are you most passionate about in your work?

I hope our technology can advance from benchside to clinic to create a positive impact on our society.

What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?

I have learned how to advance scientific endeavors into a commercial reality. By embracing an entrepreneurial mindset we can consider whether something is truly in need and has market potential. 

What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?

Try to look at all possible ways to scrap your idea: if it withstands these questions then it must be strong. 

How has participation in the Big Bang! workshops and business competition helped you as an aspiring entrepreneur?

I learned how to pitch my idea, and stick with the most important components to reach a broad audience. 

The Keller Pathway Fellowship Program specifically supports women, cross-disciplinary researchers and other underrepresented university-based entrepreneurs. Do you have any insight, experience or concern you’d like to share?

As a first-generation college student, I am proud that the Keller Pathway Fellowship Program recognizes students who may come from a disadvantaged background. As a female scientist, I am also honored to be among the growing number of women who are becoming involved in leadership roles. 

How will your experiences as a Keller Pathway Fellow help you to change the world?

Participating in the Big Bang! has enabled me to push myself and try new things. This experience has also sharpened my networking and entrepreneurial skills to become successful in any setting.

I believe with time, practice, and the proper guidance, I will develop into an influential female scientist who is capable of changing the world.