Tsai-Fan Yu was a doctor, college professor, the first woman to be appointed as a full professor at Mount Sinai Hospital, and was a leader in efforts to understand the condition known as gout.
Born in Shanghai China in 1911, she studied medicine at Peking Union Medical College earning her medical degree and being named the Chief Resident in Internal Medicine at the college.
Immigrating to the United States in 1947, she taught a Columbia University before joining the faculty of Mount Sinai Medical Center ten years later. The focus of her research was building an understanding of the metabolic relationship between elevated levels of uric acid and the pain experienced by gout patients.
Considered one of the most painful forms of arthritis, gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the body that can lead to sharp uric acid crystal deposits that can occur in joints, under the skin, and in the kidneys. One of the first gout clinics in the United States was opened at Mount Sinai with her help and Yu was responsible for the development of medicines, including probenecid, that have been successful in treatment of gout by causing the removal of excess uric acid from the body. Further studies led to her discovery that an anti-inflammatory drug, colchicine, could prevent recurring attacks of acute gout.
By continuing to study gout’s mechanisms she was able to show that the drug allopurinol was able to prevent the formation of uric acid and it is still used to treat gout and kidney stones. She was the recipient of a Master Award from the American Association of Rheumatology for the establishment of the first systemized laboratory tests for the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
During the 1950s she became an American citizen and in 1973 she was promoted to a full professor at Mount Sinai. Retiring as a professor emeritus in 1992 after publishing 200 journal articles and the book The Kidney in Gout and Hyperuricemia, she left a lasting impression on her patients and others that suffer from the effects of gout.
Written by Angela Goad