An undergraduate student medical researcher seeks a connection with patients
By Bob Woods
Photography by Tom Salyer
Ethan Tieu with one of his 3D-printed violins.
than Tieu is just 19, but he has acquired beyond-his-age knowledge and experience in a range of disciplines. A sophomore and Stamps Scholar at the University of Miami pursuing a dual degree in neuroscience and computer science and minoring in Spanish and mathematics, he has already participated in a genetic research project at the Miller School.
Tieu has set his postgraduate sights on an M.D./Ph.D. program. “I want to better understand the connection between medicine and research,” he said during a video interview from the Louvre, a summer-vacation stopover after attending the World Parkinson Congress in Barcelona. The event, which his scholarship provided funding for him to attend, “was a big melting pot of Parkinson’s disease researchers, physicians and patients that I wanted to experience firsthand,” he said.
Tieu traces his twin passions to the Miller School project, which involved long days in the lab observing genetically modified rats. “I was missing the connection to the patients with the disease we were studying,” he said. That led him to shadowing physicians treating people who have an inherited disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which damages the peripheral nerves. “I’m trying to find a niche where I can explore and apply my talents in a way that allows me to help people directly,” he said.
Tieu’s interest in helping people extends to two other disparate talents: playing the violin and tinkering with technology. In 2020, he founded Tieu Tunes and teamed up with a nonprofit group in Kenya to distribute 3D-printed violins and provide virtual lessons to aspiring young musicians. “I wanted to do something a little bit unrelated to sciences,” he said.
Lest one pegs Tieu as merely a teen brainiac, he loves hanging out with his dorm roommates, going out to eat and playing video games. “I definitely have a life, I promise,” he quipped. And he is already looking forward to medical school. “I love the U,” he declared. “I’m a Hurricane through and through.”