Taking neuroscience beyond the brain

Dr. Wei-Yang Lu’s arrival in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1992 was an unforgettable surprise. Expecting a capital city on the same scale as those in his native China, the researcher quickly realized St. John’s had a lot more space and a lot less people.
“I come from a very different world,” he said with a laugh. “When I first arrived in the country I didn’t know anything about Canada, but I’ve grown to love it here.”
Dr. Lu’s doctoral training at Memorial University in St. John’s set the stage for a distinguished career in neurophysiology.
The scientist currently studies an emerging, cross-collaborative field in neuroscience, looking at γ-amino butyric acid (GABA) signaling in non-neuronal cells. Besides its role in the brain, GABA is also a common signaling molecule found outside the central nervous system. Dr. Lu’s research mostly focuses on the role of this amino acid in the regulation of the lung, pancreas and immune cells.
“This new area of research crosses the fields of neuroscience with non-neuroscience,” he explained. “The potential outcomes could impact our understanding of neuro-immune regulation and inflammatory responses in the body.”
As a medical student at Shandong University in China, Dr. Lu planned to become a family physician, carrying on the professional legacy of his father. But he was intrigued by his work in the lab and gradually shifted his career focus.
After a postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Lu held a faculty position at the University of Toronto. At the encouragement of the late Dr. John MacDonald, one of Canada’s preeminent neurophysiologists and former scientific director of Robarts, he accepted a position at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry with a lab at Robarts in 2009.
“We were great colleagues and friends,” said Dr. Lu. “He was creating a world-class neuroscience facility at Robarts and I wanted to be a part of the team.”

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