Polly Huang: Preventing and treating non-communicable diseases

Meet Polly Huang, a research fellow for the Primary Care and Population Health research program at The George Institute, China. She joined TGI China in 2010 as an assistant to the deputy director and research coordinator, where she developed her interest in public health research.

How long have you been working at The George Institute?

I joined in April 2010. In early 2013, I successfully got the in-house scholarship and studied for a master’s degree in public health at the University of Sydney. During those two years I also worked under the supervision of Professor Bruce Neal at The George Institute Australia. I came back to the China office and worked as a research fellow from this April 2015.

What attracted you to working at The George Institute?

It was actually a coincidence for me to join. Five years ago while I was working as a medical English interpreter, a friend of mine who worked at George Clinical told me there was an opportunity at TGI and encouraged me to give it a try. That was the beginning of my career here. After joining I was attracted to the nice and friendly working environment and of course the interesting research work that I devoted myself to.

What are you currently working on?

Currently I’m working on two projects about diet-related ill health. One is called the SSaSS study (China Salt Substitute and Stroke), evaluating if a low-sodium salt substitute can reduce the morbidity and mortality of stroke, and the second is FoodSwitch, a smartphone app that enables people to make healthier food choices when shopping for packaged food. This app is already popular in Australia and some other developed countries. We’d love to bring it to the Chinese customers.

What is a recent highlight?  

I started as a full-time research fellow for the SSaSS study from this April, but I’ve been involved in it since July 2014. At that time the research team started the data quality tracking work and I was assigned a task I had no experience with. I spent a week, learnt by myself, and finished the first draft which gave me a real sense of achievement.

I’m also very happy that the FoodSwitch database has finally been built after a long time of testing. We’ve got nearly 30,000 packaged food in the database now.

What difference will this make to healthcare and why?

SSaSS is the first and biggest study of its kind worldwide. If it’s proven to be effective, it will have huge implications for the whole world’s salt reduction actions and provide solid scientific evidence.

For FoodSwitch, as we know that diet-related ill health is now the leading cause of disease in most countries including China, this app is a simple but effective way to encourage and enable people to choose healthier food. At the same time it has the potential to persuade the food manufacturers to reformulate their products.

What is your professional background?

I graduated with a Bachelor in English (Medical Science). Then in 2013 I applied for a Master of Philosophy (Medicine) at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Professor Bruce Neal. Currently I’m doing the final revision of my master’s thesis and will submit it shortly.

Why do you enjoy working at The George Institute?

I love the working environment, there are harmonious interpersonal relationships and my colleagues are all very hard working and caring about others. Of course I also find the research I’m working on very interesting. It’s good to meet new challenges every day and find ways to solve them.

To explain to people what I do I say….

I am doing public health research work in the field of non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention and treatment. I look for effective methods and strategies to reduce the prevalence of NCD among huge populations, and therefore help people live longer but also healthier.

I work at The George Institute because…

I love the research work that I’m doing, and believe that my work is very meaningful to people and can bring real impact to people’s health and lives.

To unwind at the end of the day I….

Sometimes I still need to work till late to have all my work done. I love to meet friends for dinner and entertain on weekends.

My first job was….

I worked as English interpreter at a company which provided physical examination services.

My biggest achievement so far….

I always consider myself a very lucky person. Everything went so well in my life and for that I would love to express my gratitude to those who love and support me all the time. I’m very pleased that I successfully got the opportunity to pursue Master degree in Australia. During those two years, I not only completed all the courses, but also worked in a very different academic environment and learnt from my Australian colleagues about their way of doing research. Of course I took the chance to travel a lot and enjoyed the beauty of different places and cities.