Dr. Grace Zhang calls her mother her greatest role model, describing her as hardworking and dedicated – someone who makes a difference.
Dr. Zhang's mom, Katharine Qiu, Ph.D., is Vice President of Infectious Disease Research and Development for Rapid Diagnostics at Abbott.
Or, more simply, she led the team that developed the Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test that’s used around the U.S. – including in the hospital where Zhang is completing her internal medicine internship after graduating from medical school.
The test provides point-of-care results in 13 minutes or less and has become a necessary tool for frontline healthcare workers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was amazing seeing the ID NOW test used in practice when I had been hearing about it in theory," Zhang said. "Every time I saw it being used it made me proud to think my mom and her team were behind the technology that made it work."
We're Doing This for Humankind
Qiu, based in California, and Zhang, interning in Illinois (and soon moving to California), were able to keep in touch with phone conversations a few times a week while Qiu's team worked long hours to develop the coronavirus test for the ID NOW platform.
Their perseverance and dedication resulted in a test that is providing results rapidly to people around the country during an unprecedented – and uncertain – time.
"Everybody put out extraordinary effort in order to make that happen," Qiu said. "We had a long list of challenges, but the team focused on resolving them one by one, tracking schedules down to the hour. Every day we asked ourselves: What else should we try?"
Through it all, she reminded her team that the sacrifices they were making and obstacles they had to overcome had a greater purpose. They were answering the call to help the world as it faced an historic challenge.
As Qiu saw it, they had two choices before them.
"Either we don’t do anything, and COVID-19 continues ravaging the globe," Qiu said. "Or we take a chance, take an aggressive approach, and give all we can."
Rallying her team and getting organizational support, Qiu said, was the easy part thanks to Abbott’s pioneering and innovative culture.
"We kept reminding each other that this is not for ourselves," she said. "We’re doing this for humankind."
STEM Runs in the Family
Just weeks later the ID NOW COVID-19 test her mother's team helped to create is being used at the same hospital where Zhang is completing her post-medical school internship.
She was able to observe her mother’s achievement firsthand.
"When I heard she was working on this project I knew it would make a lot of difference to a lot of people," Zhang said. "She's a very humble person. She’s not trying to get people to know her name. She's just very invested in her job."
Zhang says it's no accident she pursued a STEM field – science, technology, engineering and math – for her own career.
Qiu holds bachelor's degree in biochemical engineering and PhD in chemistry. She has spent more than 25 years as a STEM professional after choosing to study science from an early age in her native China. Zhang’s father also was a PhD scientist.
But it wasn't knowing her mother worked in labs surrounded with experiments and equipment that excited Zhang. It was observing her mother’s leadership skills.
"She leads teams in projects and develops products," Zhang said. "That's something I wanted to pursue in my career. Seeing her pour all of her energy into her work and take a leadership role was inspiring."
Qiu says she encouraged her daughter to study STEM subjects during junior high school, but it was Zhang who chose medicine in college. Qiu says her daughter's successes have exceeded her expectations.
"Like many in her generation, I see greater opportunity and more choices in her choosing STEM field and still living a balanced life and being happy," Qiu said.
Observing her mother's dedication is inspiring, Zhang said.
"She doesn't work for fame or recognition," Zhang said. "She's just a very passionate and dedicated person. Knowing Abbott's technologies are making a difference in the lives of so many people gives me something to aspire to live up to."
This story was originally published on June 26, 2020 and updated on June 03, 2022.