The Dream of Becoming World-Class Physician-Scientist Was Born at the College of Medicine

2023-05-22 Academic

Three students at the College of Medicine have published two research articles in international academic journals. We met the students who dream of becoming physician-scientist and Professor Dong Keon Yon, their advisor

A physician-scientist is an expert who has knowledge and experience in both basic science and clinical medicine. They are regarded as highly desirable key talent personnel in the field of new drug development, or in any research field related to bio, whose role and importance have expanded even further due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as governments around the world are quickly setting up major goals to educate a new generation of physician-scientists for future. As one of the leading medical universities in the country, Kyung Hee also has a cadre of expert physician-scientists, and the number of young students who intend to follow their path is growing. Recently, the up-and-coming physician-scientists of the future have made their mark by publishing two research articles in international academic journals. We interviewed Students Hyoin Shin, Heeje Shin, and Hyunju Yon and their advisor Professor Dong Keon Yon of the College of Medicine, a senior physician-scientist, and asked about their research achievements and their goals.

Students Hyoin Shin and Hyunju Yon published an article titled “Clinical manifestation of human mpox infection: A systematic review and meta-analysis” in Reviews in Medical Virology (IF=11.043), while Students Hyoin and Heeje Shin together published a thesis titled “Comparison of clinical manifestations in mpox patients living with HIV versus without HIV: A systematic review and meta-analysis” in Journal of Medical Virology (IF=20.693). Both research projects were focused on mpox (formerly known as “monkeypox”), which has recently raised concerns in Korea.

A meta-analysis on the relationship between the symptoms of mpox, a new infectious disease, and HIV
Q. Please briefly introduce the two recently published research.

Student Hyunju Yon: The main purpose of the research was to analyze the clinical characteristics and pathophysiology of mpox patients around the world. A meta-analysis is a method of collecting and analyzing previously existing research data. Clinical symptoms of 5,500 patients worldwide were analyzed for the most common symptoms, severity, and frequency, based on prevalence. This study revealed that a rash or chills were the most common symptoms.

Student Heeje Shin: The second study was a meta-analysis on whether there was a significant variance in the symptoms of mpox patients depending on whether they were also infected with HIV or not. As mpox is transmitted through close personal interaction such as skin or sexual contact, co-infection with HIV and mpox is common in many underdeveloped countries. We reviewed for meta-analysis the results of 99 existing research conducted and published worldwide including 2,413 patients from 27 countries and six continents. The result of meta-analysis suggested that, if a patient is co-infected with both mpox and HIV, symptoms such as skin rashes, proctitis, coughing, and diarrhea most frequently appeared. In the case of single infection of mpox, however, patients commonly exhibit fever, rash, headache, and muscle pain. In simple terms, if you had both diseases, your symptoms would most closely resemble those of sexually transmitted diseases; if you only had mpox, you would probably show symptoms similar to those of upper respiratory tract infection. There have been many studies that analyzed each disease independently, but a meta-analysis of the two diseases together is the first in the world.

Q. The subject of the two studies is mpox. While there have been some recent local cases, it is still a disease of relatively low significance in Korea. What prompted your interest in this subject?
Student Hyoin Shin: Prior to this research on mpox, I was involved in a study on COVID-19. The corona pandemic has opened many eyes to the potential risk of serious new infectious diseases. While there currently is little interest in Korea, there are many predictions from around the world that mpox might be the next big pandemic after COVID-19. This study was intended as a springboard to prepare for the new pandemic. Previous studies mostly had rather narrow focus on one specific case and lacked an extensive analysis. I wanted to approach the disease through a comprehensive meta-analysis in detail.

Professor Dong Keon Yon: The importance of research on new infectious diseases has substantially increased due to the corona pandemic. It also forced us to think in new terms to deal with the global pandemic, as awareness has spread that medical big data, medical artificial intelligence, and other necessary components should be organically integrated and grouped into one cohesive discipline called “Digital health.” In this study, new discoveries were made and value was created by collecting relevant existing data from all over the world and re-evaluating them with a new methodology, and the result is more meaningful as this particular method was attempted for the first time in the world. Mpox occurs frequently in underdeveloped countries, but research capacity in those countries tends to be limited. I encouraged the students thinking that this research could help those who are in need and suffering.

Medical school undergraduate research program that encourages undergrad student research activities
Q. What motivated you to participate in the research as an undergraduate?

Student Heeje: I decided to go to medical school in my second year of high school. I wanted to do something directly meaningful and worthwhile and being a doctor and saving lives seemed to be a rewarding job. In fact, Student Hyoin is my older sister. She nudged me to participate in the study. The pre-med preparatory program was comparatively easier than the medical school curriculum, so I was able to do find time to work on this research. As there was no strict time-constraint, I could work whenever I found it convenient regardless of during semester or vacation, so it was no hardship. My sister played a big role in helping me. We don’t talk a lot (laughs), but it was okay.

Student Hyoin: There is an undergraduate research program hosted by the Medical College Student Association. When comparing Wet Lab, which focuses on actual experiments, and Dry Lab, which focuses on existing data analysis, I felt that my personal inclination was more suitable for Dry Lab. I have always been interested in statistics and mathematics. I looked for the compatible commonality where my talent and personality best intersected with the study of medicine, so I ended up doing research at Dry Lab. I find the process of collecting data or analyzing existing data to derive new implications fascinating.

Student Yon: From the start, when I first enrolled at Kyung Hee, my dream was to become a physician-scientist. I applied to work in many laboratories, both Wet and Dry Lab, even when I was in the first year of pre-med preparatory program. I wanted to find a lab that specializes in researching medicine in conjunction with data science or artificial intelligence. I am also working on related research through the Kyung Hee Dream Challenge Scholarship and gaining experience in the analysis of the characteristics of new infectious diseases and the response of vulnerable groups in relation to them.

Q. How do you feel after completing the research?
Student Hyoin: I feel relieved and sad at the same time. The process of carefully reviewing the draft of our article for journal submission, and the meticulous re-examining of all the statistical data in it, felt quite overwhelming at times. I feel a sense of relief and closure that one piece of work is successfully completed but also a bit of regret that perhaps I could have done better.

Student Hyunjoo: It’s a similar feeling. However, I still have a thesis in progress, so I can’t relax. Even before coming to this interview, I was looking through the materials. I think I should go to the lab during vacation, do more research, and move toward my dream of becoming a physician-scientist.

Student Heeje: It sometimes felt awkward as it was the first time getting involved in a serious research project of this magnitude. But the final outcome was beyond my wildest expectations, so in the end it was all truly incredible. I am grateful to my sister who worked with me, and I am also grateful to all who helped me with my research.

Professor Yon, “We will help students grow into physician-scientists by vitalizing Digital health research”
Q. Is there anything you want to say to the team members?

Student Hyunjoo: It was nice to be able to do many activities during pre-med. The Dream Challenge Scholarship is a good system. It was an opportunity to find out what I wanted to do in connection with research. While preparing for the interim report and final presentation, I also thought that I wanted to do something that had a global impact. I also dreamed of working for an organization like the World Health Organization (WHO). I am grateful to the professors and the school for giving me the opportunity to dream big.

Student Hyoin: I became a beneficiary of the first undergraduate research program created last year. Previously, undergraduate students had to contact professors directly to apply for a spot in the lab, which was a formidable hurdle for undergrads when they did not know exactly what kind of specific research the professors were doing. I have only experienced one lab, but if you haven’t decided on a specific field yet, you can experience a variety of labs through the program. I am grateful to the medical school and professors who created the program.

Student Heeje: I felt that I lost my motivation as only the online activities were available during the pandemic. I hope this achievement would motivate other students who might be depressed or disheartened in that students like me can do something like this. The medical school undergraduate research program is open to all. Doing research in a lab setting and being part of a high-quality research project really made me realize and appreciate that I am studying and working in a university, which led to a sense of achievement and pride in the end.

Professor Yon: The field of Digital health is a relatively new discipline that really emerged amidst the global response to the pandemic, and it made a sizable contribution to educating and nurturing physician-scientists who are now highly sought-after even at the government level. I will continue to actively research, teach students, and help students grow into physician-scientists.

While guiding students, I hoped that the research results would be published in a renowned academic journal, so I accelerated the pace of research as the level of competition is fierce among researchers in the field of emerging infectious diseases. Results must be produced logically and quickly in order to be published in top journals. It must have been quite hard for the students, but I wanted to ensure that their efforts received the proper recognition they deserved. That we had good results was all due to the dedicated hard work and talent of the students involved, and we still have more research results remain to be published. I hope that these achievements will continue to accumulate and eventually lead the students to become world-class physician-scientists.

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