Academics and Research

From Top Medical Student to Rising Academic Star ---Introducing Huaxi’s Youngest Principal Investigator

Thirteen years ago, a young senior-high student was accepted to an eight-year bachelor, master and PhD joint medical degree program at Sichuan University. At the time, the now 31-year-old would never have imagined that he would go on to become the youngest group leader and principal investigator at West China Second University Hospital in Chengdu. Last year, Zhou won the “Sichuan University Tang Lixin ” for his remarkable academic achievements and exemplary character. His supervisors, colleagues and students describe him as diligent, studious, energetic, and forward-looking. He believes that hard work and perseverance are the keys to success.

Journey of a Top Medical Student


Before meeting Zhou Shengtao for the first time, I envisioned someone “bookish” in appearance who would look much older than he was. Little did I expect to find a peer who looked much like any other classmate of mine and, in addition, was outgoing, good-humored, and friendly. When Zhou chose the clinical medicine program at SCU for a college career in 2005, he was not yet 18. I asked him what had drawn him to the study of medicine at a fairly young age: “I thought it would be great to get a bachelor’s, a master’s, and then a doctorate degree all within eight years; I wanted to give it a try and challenge myself with something that was new to me,” he replied.


Zhou had always held the medical profession in high esteem. However, while choosing this path was the easy part, “only going through the process would teach me all its trials,” he said. From a young age, Zhou had excelled in his studies, and he continued to do well at university. By 2012, before completing his degree, he already had nine articles in SCI journals to his name as first author, as well as co-authorships of eight further articles and three monographs. He won several scholarships, both at the national and school level, along with prizes at two nationwide college English proficiency competitions.


His colleagues and classmates note that he is meticulous in his work, as well as patient and kind-hearted, showing genuine care and concern for others. Another characteristic that stands out is Zhou’s pursuit of excellence in everything he does. Although dedicated to scientific research and boasting a high IQ, he doesn’t lack in emotional intelligence either.


According to his supervisor, Professor Zhao Xia, Zhou is a highly motivated, active, industrious, and open-minded person. “As a third-year university student, he went and found the supervisor he wanted, not waiting to be assigned one, and began discussing research problems two years before most other students in the program ever contacted a supervisor. During his studies, Zhou spent a lot of his free time at the lab engaging in research projects that he was interested in. He has invested so much hard work and is reaping the benefits: of all my students, Zhou Shengtao was the most outstanding; he also published the most papers.”

A Rising Academic Star

In 2013, Zhou Shengtao says he felt extremely fortunate joining the other winners on stage to receive the award. When asked how he felt at the time, he replied: “I was encouraged to devote myself more wholly to scientific research and innovation.”


Zhou Shengtao has become a dedicated researcher. In the past ten years, he’s published 20 SCI journal articles as first or co-author. A member of his research team says of the young doctor: “In the past half year that I’ve been here, I’ve come to know Dr. Zhou as being a conscientious and very sociable person. He always comes to check on us in his spare time, to make sure everyone on the team is doing alright and to get an update on the experiments. If things come to a standstill, he’ll jump in to help out and see to it that everything gets back on track. I’ve never once seen him angry. He’s nice to his students, and he is also extremely competent at what he does. He’s well-versed in many areas and methods, so if he’s working on a project and runs into a dead end, he can usually think of another approach that will help him figure out a way forward.” Zhou knows how to take initiative and does a good job of leading the team.


When Zhou’s research team – the “Zhou Lab” – officially formed at the end of 2017, Sichuan University and the hospital gave their full support. The team, made up of master and PhD students from Hong Kong and cities around Mainland China, all appreciate Dr. Zhou’s outgoing personality and the fact that he often treats them to lunch: rarely is there a festival day on which team members don’t share a meal with each other. “As a team, we work together to achieve results. It’s not just a one-man show: the department, the hospital staff – everyone pitches in,” says Zhou.        

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


At the moment, Zhou Shengtao serves as committee member of the Human Proteome Organization (HUPO), which fosters technologies and research in proteomics, the study of proteins. He is also a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the American Association for Cancer Research, among others.


This March Zhou’s team published an article in Genome Biology entitled “RNA binding protein SORBS2 suppresses metastatic colonization of ovarian cancer by stabilizing tumor-suppressive immunomodulatory transcripts.” The research presented in this article provides a new theoretical basis for developing diagnoses and treatment options for ovarian cancer patients.


Interest is the Best Teacher

For Zhou, whether as a medical student or now as a physician and scientific researcher, interest has proven the best teacher. As a scientist who enjoys working in the lab and making new discoveries, Zhou hopes to make a significant contribution to current research on gynecologic cancers and in this way contribute to the improvement of women’s mental and physical health. “In the end, the goal is always to help the patient: that’s the reason for our experimenting and the meaning of our scientific achievements,” says Zhou.


Zhou’s interests are wide-ranging, from music to sports to language studies. He has no difficulty presenting his research to international audiences in fluent and precise English. I asked Zhou what has kept him going on his sometimes arduous road to success. “Interest and passion,” came his immediate reply.