Employee of the Month – Hanbang Zhang

May 2017, Upi Singh Lab

Hanbang Zhang is a basic life science research scientist. Day-to-day, that means he maintains cell culture (working in the hood for 1-2 hours), keeps track of lab ordering and collaborates with others on the same research project. He says, “Most of my time is on research experiments, which involves designing and running experiments, analyzing data, problem solving, etc. My work is 100% research-oriented.”

And as much as Hanbang really enjoys the daily work – and even calls it “fun” – he also gets excited about his role in the bigger picture. He says, “Professor Singh’s lab is one of major labs in the world studying the fundamental biology of human parasite Entamoeba histolytica, a leading parasitic cause of death and an important human pathogen. In the past years, we have discovered a unique endogenous RNAi pathway that controls gene expression in this single celled eukaryote and developed gene silencing tools that have been extensively used by the amebic community. My current research focus is to further elucidate the mechanisms of small RNA ‘Trigger’ silencing and dissect the components of RNAi machinery in the parasite.”

Moving science forward

“Since he joined my lab,” says Upi Singh, “he has been an author on seven publications –excellent productivity in a difficult system. He has also initiated a whole new line of work in my lab on the RNAi pathway. He brought the idea to the lab, took the effort to establish the approaches and has led our efforts in this scientific arena. Our science has progressed tremendously well, and we have been successful with NIH funding directly due to Hanbang’s efforts, insights and productivity. He is highly motivated to move science forward.”

Hangbang’s contributions have opened some interesting research directions in the amebic research area, but his colleagues also appreciate his expertise. Dipak Manna says Hanbang is excellent at this work, “in particular identifying the role of small-RNAs in gene silencing in human pathogen Entamoeba histolytica. He published his work in lots of peer-reviewed journals and shares knowledge, experience and valuable suggestions.”

Monica Marcolino agrees. She says, “Hanbang is a very patient colleague. He knows a lot of techniques and teaches them with lots of details. He is always ready to answer any question we have regarding science or the routine of the lab. He also makes sure we spend our money wisely and is ready to suggest a better approach to everything we want to pursue.”

In this area, Dr. Singh gives the highest praise. She says, “Hanbang is an incredible asset to my program and to the institution. I could not run my research program without him. This is not false praise but simply a statement of the facts: my research program’s success is due to Hanbang’s scientific contributions, and my lab running in an effective manner is due to Hanbang’s lab management contributions.”

Serving as mentor and chief problem solver

Hanbang’s skills are known outside the Singh lab, as well. Srilatha Swami, who works in Joy Wu’s lab, says, “Hanbang is very good technically and always helps with very creative suggestions when you need to trouble shoot a particularly difficult experiment. He’s a great resource for newcomers to the Stanford community.” Dr. Singh often hears stories about Hangbang mentoring junior trainees and postdocs, and she says many attribute their own success to skills they learned with help from Hangbang.  

Sarah Bauer, who first met Hanbang in January when she started her postdoctoral fellowship, knows this firsthand. She says, “I had a lot to learn both in research and about living in the Bay Area.  Hanbang has been extremely welcoming and has served as a generous mentor throughout this process.  He took the initiative to take me under his wing as a mentee, sharing his wealth of knowledge as I learned about a completely new research topic and techniques. He has truly gone above and beyond his duties to help guide me during this transition time.  He does this not out of obligation, but out of his passion for research and our lab’s goal to better understand the biology of the pathogen responsible for amoebic dysentery.” 

Sarah also notes Hanbang’s extraordinary troubleshooting abilities. When one of her projects proved to be a big challenge, Hanbang helped her problem solve. She says, “He provided invaluable advice and positive encouragement, and he dedicated countless hours of his own time to help me identify steps in the protocol that needed to be adjusted.”

Time and again, this has been Dr. Singh’s experience also. She says, “Hanbang has an excellent work ethic and amazing experimental hands. His experiments always work. Even the toughest experiments, while at first he may have to troubleshoot, eventually work. This is a testament to his hard work, careful approach, great technical skills and finesse. For the toughest experiments in the lab, he is the ‘go to person.’ This level of scientific and technical skill is absolutely essential to the RNAi work that we do. The approaches are difficult, the system is tough and the level of detail highly intense. It is clear that without Hanbang’s experience and expertise, we simply could not succeed in these experiments.”

Accepting praise from colleagues

Having started as a graduate student before joining the Singh lab, Hanbang has been with the Department of Medicine for over 10 years and says he being selected for the Employee of the Month award was “a big surprise” and “great honor.” Since his work is so focused on specific research projects he says he doesn’t always get the chance to interact with other people in the Department outside those whom he works with in the lab. As a result, he says, “This award indicates the Department greatly appreciates each individual member.”

Gretchen Ehrenkaufer says she nominated Hanbang for the award because “he is a valuable member both of our lab and of the wider Stanford Medicine community. He is intelligent, hard-working and a top-notch scientist, as well as a respectful and good-hearted colleague. In particular, I would like to call out his honesty and judgement, which have contributed greatly to my own work.” Her remarks are echoed by Dipak Manna, who says, “Hanbang Zhang is a nice human being. He is always approachable, and I’m really lucky to have come in contact with him.”

When he’s not at work, Hanbang enjoys reading and traveling.