Kyung Hee Leading Research in Environmental Technology for People and Their Surroundings

2022-08-16 Academic

Professors Jin-Bae Kim at the Department of Medicine and Eun-Jung Park at the Department of Premedication were selected for the 2022 Environmental Technology Development Project by the Ministry of Environment

Professors Jin-Bae Kim at the Department of Medicine and Eun-Jung Park at the Department of Premedication were chosen last year for the 2022 Environmental Technology Development Project managed by the Ministry of Environment. Professor Kim will receive 5.3 billion KRW over five years for his research project Technology Development to Identify the Effects of Circulatory Diseases by Complex Exposure to Microparticulate and Air Pollutants in the Environmental Disease Prevention and Management Core Technology Development Project. Professor Park will receive approximately 1.7 billion KRW over three years for the Development of Human Toxic Effects Assessment Technology for Complex Mixtures among MoA Characteristic-Based Products of the Lifetime Chemical Product Safety Management Technology Development Project.

Professor Kim is a cardiologist specializing in arrhythmias. “When I first decided to become a specialist in arrhythmia, I thought I would devote my life to helping patients with the condition. Since then, I have taken up additional research interest in two related fields outside arrhythmias: one is microparticulate and the other is athletes. My interest in microparticulate pollution has now paid off,” he said.

The goal of the Development of Technology to Identify Effects of Circulatory Diseases by Complex Exposure to Microparticulate and Air Pollutants is △Development of biomarkers related to exposure to complex air pollution and △Establishment of a system for evaluating and predicting the effects of air pollution on circulatory diseases. Professor Kim said, “I want to inform patients with heart disease about the dangers of microparticulate. People often say, 'Let's eat some pork belly to cleanse the yellow dust,’ which is rather primitive, and the only readily available way to combat microparticulate pollution is to use a mask or an air purifier. I would like to introduce preventative methods and drugs based on scientific evidence, and my research team is also considering the development of new drugs.”

The research team plans to perform a cohort analysis of representative heart diseases such as high blood pressure, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation, and find biomarkers related to microparticulate in them. After the basic experiment, the team plans to create a model that can predict the reaction when exposed to microparticulate. As Professor Kim met more experts and professors in the fields of engineering and toxicology while preparing for his research project, he gained more confidence in the viability of his project. The existence of the cohort data, which have been accumulated through various national projects since 2016, was also reassuring. Professor Kim said, “We as a team have accumulated experience in studies on the effects of microparticulate on cardiovascular disease and the methodology of effective cohort analysis. I believe we are fully prepared for this project.”

Professor Eun-Jung Park was selected for the Development of Human Toxic Effects Assessment Technology for Complex Mixtures among MoA Characteristics-Based Products. She recently published a popular book on how to protect health from chemicals in daily life. Professor Park said, “The publication of the book was to buy time for my upcoming research that will reveal the full extent of the dangers of toxic substances. Despite the best efforts of researchers, there is always a practical limit to the speed at which we can derive toxicity data. Therefore, I thought that if the public could reduce their exposure to toxic substances through an easy-to-read book, it would buy me a little more time until I can complete the research.”

Professor Park has always carried a sense of responsibility for not being able to prevent the humidifier disinfectant incident, and her research is an opportunity to never again repeat similar tragedies. The challenge is to develop a toxicity test method and a chemical toxicity prediction program that evaluates the properties of the main chemical in complex mixtures and their effects on the human body at the cellular and animal level when exposed through the respiratory tract or the skin. The current safety evaluation of chemicals in the household products is focused on the single main chemical ingredient. Even when the single ingredient in a particular product is deemed safe in its specific concentration, the results of cocktail effects with other chemicals in a complex mixture are largely unpredictable. In addition, as the existing tests are conducted orally, there has not been a reliable test for the safety of aerosol or skin exposure. The ongoing decrease in the use of laboratory animal for toxicity test is also one of the key reasons behind the research.

Professor Park is confident of the success of the project on the strength of the research team. In the last two years, the team has been working on the Respiratory Safety Data Production Project for Single Component Chemicals sponsored by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. The team also includes a few researchers and institutions with data and physical properties research results from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. Machine learning and the development of in silico simulation for respiratory stability prediction are also one of the key focus areas of the project. Professor Park said, “For every 27 seconds a new chemical substance is developed. We plan to go all-in on creating an ongoing raw database on respiratory safety of chemical products while keeping up with the new chemical ingredients and products as they are introduced. I and the safety evaluation laboratory will continue to produce respiratory safety data of chemicals in household chemical products made of complex ingredients with the same test system. And I plan to use this database to create a forecasting program.” She emphasized, “A huge amount of data will have to be produced, collected, and sorted. I plan to devote the remaining ten years of my research period to this program.”

In early July, a kick-off workshop was held in the 2nd Seminar Room of the Information Administration Building of Kyung Hee Medical Center for the success of the two projects. The members of the projects shared the progress and objectives of the current tasks. Dean Jeong-Taek Woo of the College of Medicine said, “Human civilization has made tremendous progress over the past 100 years. However, there is a negative side to the technological development in that, while it delivered considerable benefits, the benefits tend to carry adverse effects proportional to the magnitude of the benefit. Resolving this negative aftermath of technological development is the key task that Kyung Hee has taken upon itself as manifested in our founding philosophy, “Creating a Civilized World.” I fully expect these projects to achieve outstanding results, which in turn will contribute to solving intractable challenges of humankind.”

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