When he’s not thinking out of the box—authoring or coauthoring more than 120 papers, 28 review articles or book chapters and presenting 119 invited lectures—Dr. Tso is inspiring the next generation of scientists. He’s trained 25 pre- and post-doctoral fellows so far.
|Patrick Tso, PhD, is inspiring the next generation of scientists.|
“I think it is very important to help young scientists succeed,” says Dr. Tso.
A gastrointestinal physiologist by training who studies how nutrients are digested, dissolved and transported by the gut, Dr. Tso describes his own research interest as three-fold—gastrointestinal physiology, gut-brain interaction (how diet affects obesity) and cholesterol metabolism.
Shortly after he arrived at UC in 1996 to join the Department of Pathology, he along with Stephen Woods, PhD, and Randy Seeley, PhD, both of the Department of Psychiatry, formed the Obesity Research Center. Now located at the GRI, the obesity research group has grown to more than 50 people and has eight principal investigators.
Recently, Dr. Tso and colleague Ron Jandacek, PhD, have become very interested in environmental toxins known as “xenobiotics,” which basically means ‘strange life forms.” These chemicals enter the body constantly through smoking, food and even breathing and are stored in our fat tissue.
That’s where the maybe-not-so-crazy idea comes in.
Since the nature of the toxins in our body depends on the foods we eat and the air we breathe, “If you have traveled to another country, would the nature of the toxins at that place change the xenobiotics pattern in your body?” he asks. “It could be kind of like a fingerprint—like an internal passport.”
And since these toxins get stored in our fat tissue, “When you burn fat, they are reintroduced to the blood stream and the body doesn’t necessarily handle them the same way twice,” he says.
“Could this be a major reason why 'yo-yo’ dieting is so bad for us?”
Dr. Tso plans to look a bit further into this theory when some of his graduate students and laboratory co-workers travel to China this year.
|Dr. Tso believes that thinking outside the box has its rewards.|
“I miss being in the lab,” Dr. Tso says. “That’s what I really love.”
Dr. Tso is an educator who believes there is no stupid question. He’s researcher who isn’t afraid to say he has a ‘crazy” idea. And he’s a humble colleague—so much so in fact that his awards and honors are still in boxes lining the hallway outside his office.
One of those honors, a signed portrait of President Ronald Reagan, is particularly important to Dr. Tso. Some might think that’s ironic considering he was once nearly deported back to Hong Kong while he was working at the University of Tennessee during President Reagan’s administration.
Congressman Harold Ford and Senator Howard Baker learned that one of the nation’s best researchers might actually be forced to leave and sponsored a bill to keep him in the United States.
Bestowing perhaps the ultimate national honor—“They actually spent 15 minutes discussing my case on the Senate floor,” Dr. Tso says humbly.