Dr Ken Pang is a Clinician Scientist Fellow in Adolescent Medicine.
Tell us about your work.
As one of the Melbourne Children’s Clinician Scientist Fellows, I have dual roles. On the one hand, I work as a paediatrician with the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service where I care for trans and gender diverse children and adolescents. On the other hand, I work as a basic and clinical researcher. My basic research previously focused on two main areas: first, identifying what the so-called “junk DNA” was actually doing in our bodies and, second, understanding how our immune system fights viral infections. Meanwhile, my clinical research - which has become the main focus of my work since moving to the MCRI - centres on improving health outcomes for trans and gender diverse children and adolescents.
What are you hoping to achieve through the work that you’re doing/what is your ideal goal?
My motivation for moving into clinical research has been to improve the health outcomes for trans and gender diverse children and adolescents. Transgender health care for young people is a relatively new field of practice, and there is a pressing need for more research to better inform our clinical work and ensure safe and effective outcomes. This is especially important given that we know that trans and gender diverse young people face significant health and social challenges. For example, a recent Australian survey showed that 80% of transgender young people self-harm and 48% attempt suicide prior to the age of 24 years.
How many people are potentially impacted by your work?
Recent estimates suggest that around 1% of adolescents identify as transgender, so our work impacts on thousands of children in Australia alone. Consistent with this, the number of referrals to the RCH Gender Service has grown exponentially in recent years, with 250 new referrals in 2017.
What is the biggest achievement of your career?
One of my previous mentors once said to me that his scientific legacy will be marked not by any individual discoveries that he has made but rather by the pool of scientists that he has supervised and trained. In keeping with this, one of my proudest achievements to date has been the success of my first PhD student, Dr Tan Nguyen, who recently won the Basic Science category in the Victorian Premier’s Award for Medical Research for our discovery of a new mechanism by which the immune system combats viral infection.
What do you love about working at MCRI?
Moving to the MCRI has for the first time in my career allowed me to work in an environment that is specifically dedicated to improving the health of children and adolescents. As a paediatrician, I feel like I’m now in the right place.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
At university, I went to selection trials for the Australian Commonwealth Games swimming team and also appeared on the quiz show, Sale of the Century. Unfortunately, I came home empty-handed both times.
What do you like doing when you’re not working?
Apart from hanging out with my wife and 2 sons, who are currently aged 5 and 7, I like to surf whenever the swell and time permit.