Clinical Neurosciences Center

Duong Huynh, PhD

The Pursuit of Insight: A Lifelong Journey

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Oct 1, 2010 1:00 AM

At the age of 11, Dr. Huynh was hit by a stray bullet and paralyzed from the waist down. Today, his mission is to discover ways to regenerate neurons so that someday others might not share the challenges he faces in his daily life.

“When it happened, doctors explained to me that the reason I could not use my legs or have feeling in half of my body was because the gunshot severed my spinal cord,” Dr. Huynh says. “Ever since, I’ve wondered how a single bullet could do so much harm. When I had the chance to start school again in 1977, I knew I wanted to go into science and learn how the body and neurons work.”

Dr. Huynh’s path through school was far from typical—having completed only the first grade prior to his injury, he began studying at the fi fth-grade level at age 19 after becoming a U.S. citizen.  Two and a half years later, he had completed high school and begun his collegiate career at California State University, Long Beach. Following his undergraduate curriculum, Dr. Huynh obtained a master’s degree, then a doctorate (PhD) in biochemistry and neurobiology from University of California, Riverside.

Duong HuynhFocused on Changing Lives
After being hired as an Assistant Professor in Residence and Research Scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Huynh launched his career investigating Parkinson’s disease.

“My current research focuses on the molecular basis of Parkinson’s disease,” Dr. Huynh says. “That includes how proteins and genetic structures cause Parkinson’s and what role environmental factors play
in the development of the disease.”

His comprehensive knowledge of the subject matter and dedication to research most recently led him to the Clinical Neurosciences Center at The University of Utah, where he was reunited with two
former colleagues.

“Dr. Huynh and I have been good friends from the time we began working in the Pulst Lab,” says Daniel Scoles, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurology.  “I’ve known him for 14 years, and our personal relationship enhances what we are able to accomplish as researchers. We share ideas all the time.”

Dedication Outside the Lab
The work of the Pulst Lab translates into continual striving to meet new research challenges and discover more information. In his personal life, Dr. Huynh brings equal commitment to another worthy pursuit: improving the quality of life of disabled people in his homeland of Vietnam, where more than 2 million
children suffer some form of disability and the need for assistance is significant.

“Many farmers are too poor to purchase wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment for their sons and daughters,” Dr. Huynh says. “After I was injured, I was confined to bed for about two years because I had no wheelchair. I remember the feeling I had when I saw a wheelchair being pushed through the door to my bed, returning freedom and mobility to my life.  I see that same expression on the faces of children in Vietnam when we bring assistive devices to them.”

In addition to providing mechanical movement assistance through a group called Social Assistance Program for Vietnam (SAP-VN), Dr. Huynh helps facilitate corrective orthopedic surgical procedures for children. Since its inception, the program has sponsored more than 6,000 children.

“When I go back to Vietnam and see the smiling faces of children SAP-VN has helped and the successes of those children after corrective surgery or receiving a wheelchair, I am filled with joy,” Dr. Huynh says. “I have seen handicapped children crawl across the dirt ground because they have no other way of getting around. I know we make a tremendous difference.”

For more information on the Pulst Lab, dowload this article, or contact Neurosciences Public Affairs at 801-585-7777.

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