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Focus on Chien-Huan Chen, MD, PhD

Chien-Huan Chen, MD, PhD is an assistant professor in the Division of Gastroenterology.His areas of specialty include small intestinal diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases, and cancer-related gastrointestinal problems.

Dr. Chen sees patients at two convenient locations:
Center for Advanced Medicine, 4921 Parkview Place, Suite 8C.
Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, 10 Barnes West Drive, Medical Building Two.


What happened in the course of schooling to make you choose your specialty?

I have been interested in gastrointestinal problems since I was a child because some of my family members have frequent “digestive issues”. When I was in medical school, I had the opportunity to work with several well-respected gastroenterologists who inspired me to become a gastroenterologist as well.

Over the course of training, I found that gastrointestinal problems are quite complicated. Even very common complaints like stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea can be difficult to figure out. I need to look at the person as a whole, not just organ systems, and step by step think through the problem. This process of solving the puzzle was what attracted me to the field.

Dr. Chien-Huan Chen and family
What brought you to Washington University?

Washington University has a world renowned reputation in both patient care and research. When my wife and I looked for residency positions, we wanted to have the best training. We were thrilled to be here for training at Washington University, and now enjoy working with other wonderful doctors here.

Which aspect of your practice do you find most interesting?

Gastroenterology is appealing to me because it provides both cognitive and procedural aspects of medicine. I enjoy working on a wide variety of problems, from the esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, to the colon, and the interactions between the digestive system and the whole body. Another important aspect of my practice is doing endoscopies which allows me to address patients’ problems more directly during the procedure.

Are there any developments in your field that you are most excited about?

The advance in genetics and molecular biology allows us to decipher the structures and functions of genes much more easily. By comparing the expressions and functions of genes of healthy individuals with patients, we can pinpoint the molecular defects that lead to various kinds of diseases. We can also study the interactions of humans and their environments at genetic levels. The potential to improve medical care from these new developments is very exciting.

The development of new instruments and techniques opens up many new fields for us. For example, the small intestine used to be considered a “black box” in gastroenterology because it was difficult to access small intestine. Now, capsule endoscopy allows us to examine the entire small bowel– something that we previously could not do. With a capsule endoscopy, the patient swallows a capsule that contains a miniaturized lens and camera. It transmits images of the small intestine to a recorder worn by the patient. The images are then downloaded to a computer to be viewed by doctors. If small intestinal problems are found on the capsule endoscopy, we now have specialized endoscopes to reach deep inside the small bowel without surgery. Our ability to access small intestine is an important milestone in gastroenterology.

Where are you from originally?

I am originally from Taiwan. I met my wife in medical school there and we came to the United States in 1994. I obtained my PhD at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and subsequently came to Washington University for my internship, residency and fellowship training.

Is there a particular award or achievement that is most gratifying?

When I came to Washington University, I was awarded as a member of the Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP). PSTP gave me opportunities to do research with great physician scientists, and to translate scientific knowledge in the lab to problems we face at the bedside.

It is also very gratifying to see my patients improve. Their positive feedbacks motivate me to strive for the best.

Are you involved in any of the research you mentioned?

I am involved in different ongoing research projects. One project is studying the effectiveness of small intestinal endoscopies in various different medical conditions. Another project is on the interactions of genetics and environment in inflammatory bowel diseases. In addition, we are collaborating with the cancer center to study the gastrointestinal problems in patients with cancer.
What do you do when you are not working?
When I am not working, I spend time with my family. We enjoy watching movies, hiking, playing tennis, and family vacations. I also like to read and work out.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

One Zen master said “Every day is a good day”. It sounds so simple, but the meaning is deep- to look at the bright side of everything and to cherish what we have.

Is there a lifestyle change you feel could most benefit our health?

It is important to eat healthy, exercise, and keep weight down. These lifestyle changes are beneficial not only for the digestive system but also for a person’s overall health in general. Lastly, our mental well-being affects every part of our body. Take some time to slow down, relax, and enjoy life as it is.

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Copyright 2015 Washington University School of Medicine