Faculty Spotlight: Roland Wu, MD

Dr. Roland Wu
Photo credit Elisabeth Fall

"In college, I fell in love with cardiology when I saw my first echocardiogram," said Dr. Roland Wu. "Seeing the heart beating in real time, combined with its importance in sustaining life, got me hooked."

Now Dr. Wu spends most of his clinical time in the echocardiography lab at UCSF Medical Center, conducting stress tests and interpreting echocardiograms, which are ultrasounds of the heart. Because most patients with heart disease undergo testing in the echocardiography lab, it also inspires his research about how the body responds on a genetic and molecular level to cardiovascular injuries such as heart attack and heart failure.

"In science, you’re focused on solving the problem in your research, but you really want to focus on fixing the problems in your patients – those mysteries you see in the hospital that you don’t understand, or wish you could do something about," said Dr. Wu. "My clinical work helps guide the kind of science I want to do, which I hope will advance cardiovascular medicine."

Dr. Wu grew up in Texas, then earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He completed his medical degree at the University of Texas-Houston, internal medicine residency at the University of Texas-Southwestern in Dallas, postdoctoral training in molecular biology at Columbia University in New York and cardiology fellowship at UCSF.

For the past several years he has worked in the lab of Dr. Shaun Coughlin, director of the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI) and Distinguished Professor in Cardiovascular Biology and Medicine. Dr. Wu investigates which genes are associated with beneficial and harmful responses to cardiovascular injury, and is assessing how different tissues – such as heart muscle, blood cells and blood vessels – respond to such injury. He also uses advanced technologies to edit genomes in animal models, altering and inserting genes to promote healing and minimize heart damage. Dr. Wu also plans to conduct large-scale drug screens to try to find new, more effective therapies for cardiovascular disease.

His computer engineering background comes in handy for his current investigations. "In our experiments, we are able to manipulate entire genomes, extract the data and process it to understand what is going on in the genetic landscape," said Dr. Wu. "In this era of Big Data, it is easy to generate data, but difficult to make sense of it." Dr. Wu does much of his own computer programming, and appreciates the collaborations with bioinformatics experts at UCSF who help him discover as much as possible from the wealth of information that his experiments produce.

"There are very few places like the CVRI – a center dedicated to advanced cardiovascular research," said Dr. Wu. "The exceptional research community at Mission Bay makes UCSF one of the most exciting places to work."

When he’s not caring for patients or conducting research, Dr. Wu enjoys experimenting in the kitchen at home – his latest achievement is perfecting a gourmet style of macaroni and cheese.