Summer 2017 issue

Journey of a Thousand Miles

An Extraordinary Life

By Dr. Ruey J. Yu, with Kate Jaimet

Ruey Yu may not be a household name, but the University of Ottawa alumnus contributed to a discovery in the 1970s that revolutionized the skin care industry: he and an American colleague found that alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) could treat skin diseases and had anti-aging properties. Their breakthrough led to a global market based on AHAs and made them wealthy.

The discovery is only part of Yu’s compelling life story. Born in Japanese occupied Taiwan in 1932, Yu grew up very poor. He survived starvation and air raids during the Second World War. But his insatiable appetite for learning and his academic excellence earned him coveted opportunities to pursue his education, his ticket out of poverty. In 1962, he received a doctoral scholarship from the University of Ottawa to study chemistry.

At the age of 85, the biochemist’s scientific journey is not over. He still hopes to work on a treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Quoting English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, he says he intends “to follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”

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