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Keeping us safe: Meet Anthony Wang

Anthony Wang

There are many things you should know about Hsiang-Ming (Anthony) Wang, PhD, Texas Biomed’s Director of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS). He and his wife are proud parents of two children. He is a figure skater, photographer and first-time cat dad. He enjoys building computers and 3D-printing his own contraptions. And, he is a total people person.

In a way, that is why Dr. Wang ended up in biosafety management.

Dr. Wang studied medical technology at the National Taiwan University. He was drawn to scientific research and understanding the signaling pathways triggered by UV light and cholesterol.

But after earning a PhD in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Vermont and conducting postdoctoral research at The Ohio State University, he came to a critical realization.

“I really am not a big fan of sitting in front of the bench,” he says. “I began thinking to myself, do I want to work with samples or do I want to work with people?”

Dr. Wang enjoyed helping scientists, but wasn’t sure how to make that a career. At the time, Texas Biomed’s President/CEO Larry Schlesinger, MD, directed Ohio State’s Center for Microbial Interface Biology, which oversaw the university’s biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) laboratory program. He suggested Dr. Wang manage the lab.

“I had no biosafety background at the time,” Dr. Wang says. “He took a chance on me.”

Dr. Wang has been in biosafety ever since.

Biosafety levels

He learned the ropes from several mentors, including others who have also since joined Texas Biomed: Joanne Turner, PhD, Executive Vice President for Research, and Mark Behr, Biocontainment Facilities Manager. After managing the BSL-3 and other research operations at Ohio State, Dr. Wang spent five years at the University of Chicago as a biosafety officer and assistant director of research safety. These roles expanded his experience with a wider variety of research labs, from cancer to chemistry.

“I even helped one researcher safely ship compressed volcanic gas samples from Japan,” he says.

Along the way, Dr. Wang has become an expert in the regulations and best practices for safely conducting research. He also earned an MBA, so he often combines his scientific thinking with business analysis to consider cost, benefit and risk all together. He’s excelled in the industry, being recently elected a councilor of ABSA International: The Association of Biosafety and Biosecurity.

Dr. Wang was recruited to Texas Biomed in January 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began.

He quickly became a key member of the Pandemic Response Team, working with leaders across the Institute to keep both employees and research operations safe.

“You have to make some decisions without all the data. But we took the data that we did have, and made the best decisions we could,” he says. “In stepping back to review our response, I didn’t find anything I would have done differently because every decision was made with careful analysis.”

COVID-19 is just one of many safety issues Dr. Wang now helps manage. He is responsible for knowing the thick manuals outlining the rules for studying pathogens, from Ebola to Zika, in secure laboratories. The research and facilities are highly regulated, and he works with regulators and teams on campus to implement solutions that are both in compliance and practical.

Dr. Wang and his EHS team work to protect all on campus by ensuring they have the tools, skills and support to do their jobs safely. They also protect the surrounding community and environment, making sure campus activities do not pollute the air, soil or water.

To achieve a safer work environment, Dr. Wang especially focuses on building relationships and trust.

“We want our people to know it is OK to say when they are having an off day,” Dr. Wang says. “When you have something on your mind, or are feeling extra tired, that’s when accidents are more likely to happen, and that’s what we want to avoid. We are here to help.”

One of the main reasons Dr. Wang wanted to join Texas Biomed is the emphasis on safety.

“Safety is one of Texas Biomed’s five core values,” Dr. Wang says. “You don’t see that everywhere. Here it is a part of our DNA.”

He is also impressed with the unique combination of infrastructure, expertise and vision at Texas Biomed.

“You aren’t going to find the full pipeline to do infectious disease research in very many places, especially on high-consequence pathogens,” he says. “Some of them have the potential to cause the next pandemic. You need to prepare for that. You don’t want to wait until something happens before you start this research.”

Dr. Wang is delighted to have come full circle, rejoining the colleagues who set him on the biosafety path, and supporting high-impact science in such a collaborative environment.

“We have so much talent here,” he says. “It’s very much like a family, both my team and Texas Biomed as a whole.”

This story appeared in the Fall/Winter 2022 edition of TxBiomed magazine: