Madalene C.Y. Heng, MD, FRACP, FAAD, FACD
Dr. Madalene HengMadalene was born in Singapore to parents whose ancestors were scholars from Fujian Province in dynastic China. She graduated from the University of Singapore and did her post-graduate Medicine and Dermatology training in New Zealand and UCLA. From 1978-2003, she was in full-time academic medicine, advancing to Professor, UCLA School of Medicine, and Chief of Dermatology at the UCLA-San Fernando Valley Medicine Program. She is currently in private practice in Ventura County, California, but continues to give lectures locally and abroad, writing and reviewing papers for medical journals, and running a free internet-based dermatology consultation service. Dr. Heng is the author of 141 scientific publications that include 80 original papers in peer-reviewed journals, 55 abstracts and presentations, and 6 books and book-chapters. She is an invited reviewer for many journals, including Lancet, British Journal of Dermatology, Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, and International Journal of Dermatology, among others. Dr. Heng has lectured in 12 countries and multiple venues in the U.S. She was a keynote speaker at the OMICS Group Clinical and Experimental Dermatology Symposium in 2012, and Chairman of the same meeting in 2013.
Madalene’s interest and knowledge of basic and clinical sciences have enabled her to investigate the pathogenesis of disease at the clinical, biochemical and molecular levels, derive better understanding of causes of skin disease, and develop innovative treatment for certain dermatologic problems, notably psoriasis. She believes that the cause of psoriasis is an inherited genetic inability to switch-off activity of the enzyme, phosphorylase kinase (PhK), which is ‘turned on’ by precipitating factors such as allergic reactions and infections. By using a topical formulation of turmeric-based curcumin, a PhK inhibitor, she produced significant clinical improvement in a large series of patients, including those with long-standing generalized psoriasis, clearing over 70% of all patients within 4 months, and maintaining long-term remissions in many despite treatment withdrawal. Her research may be particularly relevant to Chinese American patients who appear to suffer more severely from psoriasis, not from higher prevalence, but from increased susceptibility to aggravating factors like atopic eczema, lactose intolerance and greater tendency to keloid formation. Her discovery of curcumin gel as a PhK inhibitor has also resulted in its use for healing burns and surgical wounds with minimal scarring. This anti-scarring effect may be particularly beneficial to patients of Chinese ethnicity, who are prone to scar and keloid formation. Since PhK is one of the earliest molecules released after tissue injury, blocking PhK activity repairs and reversesmany deleterious effects of skin disease associated with injury and inflammation, including acne, burns and photodamaged skin. She invented the technique of low pressure topical hyperbaric oxygen therapy for re-vascularizing gangrenous and diabetic ulcers, with potential benefits for ethnic Chinese, who have a significantly increased prevalence of diabetes. She introduced the use of cyclophosphamide to stop devastating skin loss in drug-induced toxic epidermal necrolysis, allowing many patients to recover from a disease that previously was considered to have high mortality. She developed and reported a unique technique of using free skin grafts for same-day repair of surgical wounds using sutures to attach deeper tissues to the base of the graft as “umbilical cords” to enhance the revascularization and survival of these grafts.
Since the days when she was full time medical faculty, Madalenehas aspired to be a quintessential academic physician – being a clinician, scientist and teacher. As aclinical dermatologist currently in private practice, she continues to teach and do clinical research. She is collaborating with the University of Rochester in New York State, and Xuzhou Tumor Hospital in Jiangsu Province in China, to study a novel treatment for radiation induced dermatitis. She continues to be an enthusiastic and effective educator and dedicates a significant part of her current professional life to the teaching of medicine and dermatology. She was voted ‘Best Teacher of the Year’ twice when she was in academic medicine, and continues to give lectures regularly to medical students and residents of an UCLA-affiliated training program. Madalene’s pride in her Chinese heritage, love of scholarship, and passion for education have profoundly affected the lives of many generations of young Chinese American doctors who have been inspired by her to pursue excellence in their profession and service to their community. Many of them have remarked years laterhow she had influenced their professional careers when they viewed her as a mentor and role model. Dr. Heng continues to give regular teaching sessions and Grand Rounds, and through her free internet telemedicine consultations, continues to help patients around the world with the cooperation of their own physicians. Because most diseases have genetic and environmental components, she believes that identifying and educating patients on their environment-based precipitating and aggravating factorsgo a long way towards achieving lasting disease remissions. She believes that it is through the education of patients and physicians – talking to lay communities, lectures to medical students, residents and physicians, and internet consultations around the world – that she can play an important role in improving the health and well-being of patients both locally and internationally. Many of the physicians in her training program were Chinese Americans, and her wish and hope are that those discoveries that have preoccupied most of her professional life can be disseminated by them to benefit the health of the Chinese and other communities.