- Univ. of California, San Francisco (UCSF) (1984) PhD Pharmaceutical Chemistry
- Univ. of Saigon, Vietnam (1972) BS Pharmacy
- 2010 – Present Head & Scientific Advisor, Biotech R&D Center – Saigon Hi-Tech Park, HCM City, Vietnam
- 2005-2009 Senior Scientist, SBI Biotech, Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan
- 2002-Present Coordinator, Vietnam Biotech Development Project, International Molecular Biology Network for Asia and the Pacific Rim (A-IMBN)
- 1990- 2002 Program Director, Glaucoma Genetics, Dept. of Ophthalmology, UCSF
- 1994-1999 Investigator, Glaucoma Research Foundation, San Francisco, California
- 1994-2000 Scientific Consultant, Glaucoma Research, InSite Vision Inc., Alameda, California
- 1995 Visiting Scientist, Dept. of Ophthalmology, Gifu Medical Center, Japan
- 1987-1990 Fellow, Laboratory of Radiology , UCSF (Prof. James Cleaver, Member of National Academy of Sciences, USA)
- 1985-1986 Research Scientist, Life Sciences Division, Du Pont de Nemours, Wilmington, Delaware
- 1982-1985 Postdoctoral Fellow, Metabolic Research Unit (Prof. John D. Baxter, Director, Member of National Academy of Sciences, USA), UCSF
- 1981-1982 Visiting Fellow, Department of Genetics (Prof. John Shine, Director), Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, Australia
- 1975-1981 PhD Studies, Dept. of Pharmaceutical Chemistry (Prof. Manfred E. Wolff, Advisor), UCSF
- Public Service Award, San Francisco-HCM City Program, San Francisco, CA (2007)
- Appreciation Award, Shanghai Institute of Medical Genetics, China (2001)
- Appreciation Award, Dept. of Ophthalmology, the Catholic Univ. Medical College, Seoul, Korea (2001)
- Appreciation Award, Univ. of Medicine and Pharmacy, Vietnam for organizing the conference on “Building a Bridge to Modern Biological Sciences for Vietnam” (2001)
- Appreciation Award, Asia-Pacific Society of Eye Genetics (2000)
- Visiting Professor Award, Dept. of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, the Chinese Univ. Medical College, Hong Kong (2000)
- Honor member of “Achievements and Services of the Vietnamese-American in USA” Collection (1999)
- Nominee of Alcon Research Award (1998, 1999)
- InSite Vision Funding Award. Studies of the TIGR gene for glaucoma diagnosis and therapy (1991-2001)
- NEI Principle Investigator Award (RO-1) for Cloning Studies of Glaucoma Gene (1993-1995)
- That Man May See, Inc. Funding Award (1995-2000)
- Glaucoma Research Foundation Funding Award (1994-1998)
- Awarded the 1st US patent of the TIGR gene for glaucoma; No. 5,606,043 (1997)
- Academic Research Funding Award – UCSF (1991-1992)
- REAC Funding Award-UCSF (1991-1992)
- Honorable Mention Award, 2nd position in Graduate Research Award, UCSF (1980).
RESEARCH & ACADEMIC ACTIVITIES
Our major research achievement was to clone the first gene, namely TIGR (for Trabecular meshwork Inducible Glucocorticoid Response, also known as MYOC, GLC1A) for glaucoma disease; the TIGR gene discovery concluded nearly 20 years of gene hunt by glaucoma investigators worldwide for a genetic basis of the disease. Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness, affecting a population of about 70 million worldwide. Our investigation of the TIGR gene at UCSF, in association with Dr. Jon R. Polansky, has then become a landmark for glaucoma research since 1997 when it was reported on Science on the gene association with glaucoma by geneticists of Iowa University. Our discoveries produced the first genetic patent for glaucoma research via using the TIGR gene, and a total of 9 patents for the gene applications in the US. Our collaboration with InSite Vision Inc. on the TIGR gene also produced the first commercial product for genetic diagnostics of glaucoma, known as OcuGene, and multi-million dollar partnership between Pharmacia Inc. and InSite Vision.
Due to its important impacts on medical research and health care, the discovery of the TIGR gene was widely reported to the public, among these, we had interviews with CNN in the Headline News, Jan. 1998; Voice of America (VOA), Aug. 1999; Washington DC Radio Station, Oct. 1999. Subsequent studies of the TIGR gene by us and others have also received special recognitions in the medical and public communities including The New York Times, Feb. 97; American Press, Feb. 97; The Japan Times, Feb. 97; Science, Vol. 275, pg. 621, Jan. 1997; Nature, Vol. 15, pg. 224-225, Mar. 1997; Ophthalmology World News Mar. 97; Review of Ophthalmology, Feb. 1997.
Currently, our Biotech Program at the R&D Center of Saigon Hi-Tech Park (SHTP) focuses on medical research and applications to improve health care of Vietnam. In particular, we aim to develop biotech platforms that could be employed for treatments of unmet diseases; they include Virus Like Particles (VLP) for novel vaccines; immunotherapies, stem cells and monoclonal antibodies for cancers, diabetics and autoimmune disorders. We also set up Biotech Network to promote biotech development and collaborations in Vietnam and international community. Our network includes universities and research centers of Vietnam, and from abroad includes UCSF, UCLA, Univ. of Tokyo, Bio-MAX (Seoul, Korea), A-IMBN, Univ. of Sydney, Univ. of Hong Kong etc. In addition, we associate with NGOs including AEMI (Access to Essential Medicine Initiatives), HIP (Health in Practice), Public Citizen organizations, SFHCMSCC (San Francisco-HCM Sister City Committee) to promote professionalism of intellectual properties, innovation approaches for the goals of making biomedical research serving the needy population of Vietnam. We joined SHTP in 2010; since 1994 we were among the first groups to promote biotechnology in Vietnam in association with UCSF.
Commenting on the TIGR Gene Discovery
It is with profound appreciation for the supports of funding agencies and the encouragements of research leaders, colleagues and friends, we are privileged to enclose the following news and remarks on our discovery of the TIGR gene in glaucoma research.
– Glaucoma Gene Provides Light at the End of the Tunnel: “It’s a very exciting finding. This is the first time anybody has ever identified something specific that indicates what might be going on in glaucoma”. Ellen Liberman, Program Director for Glaucoma, National Eye Institute (NEI). Science, Vol. 275, Jan. 31, 1997.
– CNN Headline News on the first Glaucoma gene discovery: “After cloning the TIGR gene, our laboratory has been concentrating on studying the biology of the gene. Advanced knowledge on the biological properties of the TIGR gene could help leading to better preventions and importantly, novel treatments for glaucoma” Thai Nguyen, PhD (interview with CNN, Jan. 20, 1998).
– Defective Gene Linked to Glaucoma – Doctors might be able to diagnose in time to prevent: “ Drs. Thai Nguyen and Jon Polansky studied families with relatives who were affected by glaucoma, and after finding that protein in the relatives, Nguyen, a molecular biologist, discovered the gene responsible for the guilty protein. Now that the gene is identified and cloned, it should be possible to test families with history of glaucoma and pinpoint individuals at risk for the disease so it can be controlled from the beginning”. San Francisco Chronical, Nation, Jan. 31, 1997.
-Vietnamese Scientist made Headline News abroad: “Dr. Thai Nguyen’s recognition for his sustain efforts leading to the hallmark in glaucoma gene research is an exceptional honor to be shared by the Vietnamese community at home and abroad” The LaoDong Daily News, Vietnam. July, 1998
– Genetic Breakthrough: “As a major funding source for Thai Nguyen, PhD – the molecular biologist at the University of California at San Francisco who was the first to clone the gene – the Foundation’s donor can take pride in knowing that our research projects are having dramatic and meaningful progress. Identification of the glaucoma gene provides the possibility of developing accurate and inexpensive methods for testing those who my be prone to develop glaucoma, and could lead to more effective treatments.” Glaucoma Research Foundation, Annual Report, June, 1997.
– Gene Linked to Glaucoma: “Dr. Nguyen’s team isolated and cloned the gene that encodes the TIGR protein; his group is primarily responsible for the molecular biology gene therapy and other innovative areas”. Beckman Vision News Letter, UCSF July 1997.
Remarks from Leaders & Colleagues
“In 1980s, Dr. Nguyen understood at once the profound effect of the advances in biotechnology on drug discovery and turned to future studies under such UCSF luminaries as Professor John Baxter and Professor James Cleaver. His tireless efforts were rewarded in 1997 with his discovery, together with J.R. Polansky, of the TIGR gene, implicated in the genesis of glaucoma. This work, which has received worldwide acclaim, is a seminal event that may lead to new drugs to treat a major global cause of blindness. Dr. Nguyen is a credit, not only to the Vietnamese-American community, but to all immigrants to the USA, by having been at the forefront of research in ophthalmology”. Prof. Manfred E. Wolff, Ex-Chairman, Pharmaceutical Chemistry Dept, UCSF & Editor “Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Discovery”, March, 2000.
“Dr. Nguyen is an excellent scientist who is making significant contributions to the understanding of the blinding disease known as human open angle glaucoma. Along with Dr. Jon Polansky, Dr. Nguyen has discovered and identified the human TIGR gene, thought to be responsible for human open angle glaucoma. This is very significant and important scientific work. In this era of molecular genetics and biology, such discoveries may lead to new forms of therapy for important human diseases” Prof. Steven G. Kramer, Chairman, Dept. of Ophthalmology,UCSF July, 2000.
“You have provided the glaucoma community with a very important “handle” to understand normal and abnormal outflow pathway function. You are really to be commended for this (i.e. the discovery of the TIGR gene). I know it has been a long haul, you and Jon, as well as the Iowa group, deserve our thanks for helping to further along our understanding of glaucoma” Prof. David L. Epstein, Chairman, Dept. of Ophthalmology, Duke Univ. Medical Center, June, 1997.
“Congratulation to you – for one of the biggest discoveries in ophthalmology research which brings hope for millions of patients suffering from glaucoma worldwide” Prof. Alush Gashi, Minister of Health & Member of the National Council, Kosovo, Jan. 1998.
“I was most delighted with the pleasure of having met you, an outstanding speaker and thinker, in a very important development of genetics and molecular biology in the coming decade”. Prof. Arthur SM Lim, Chairman, Ophthalmology, National Univ. of Singapore; Secretary-General, Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology. The 3rd ISO, Hong Kong, Feb. 2001.
“The TIGR/MYOC gene has given the glaucoma field a tremendous push and all that is in great part due to your discovery” Prof. Teret Borras, Duke Univ. Medical Center, ARVO 1999.
“With the cloning of the TIGR gene, you have contributed incredibly to the fields of glaucoma/trabecular meshwork biology. But your contribution to science and mankind does not end there, your work with the Vietnamese physicians and scientists to help improve the quality of life and health of the Vietnamese people deserve as much attention. You are a true role model”. Dr. Thien Khai Vu, MD, PhD, Dept. of Ophthalmology, Univ. of Wisconsin, Michigan, Dec., 1988.