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Changing the Scope of Medical Diagnosis
The Yonsei Annals
Date: Oct 23, 2020

The philosophy that has driven Dr. Yu Hojeong (Class of ’01, Dept. of Electrical & Electronic Engin. & Physics) to focus his research on the early diagnosis and detection of fatal diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and, recently, COVID-19. This perspective is refreshing as most research efforts are currently focused on finding cures for the said diseases. In an interview with The Yonsei Annals, Dr. Yu spoke about his current research, which promises to change the scope of medical diagnosis through the application of biochemistry and nanotechnology.


Annals: Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a researcher in such a promising field?
Yu: It started when I graduated from Yonsei University with a double major in Electronic Engineering and Physics. With the guidance of Professor Kim Dong-hyun (Prof., Dept. of Electrical & Electronic Engin., Yonsei Univ.), I participated in a master’s program studying the application of Biophotonics Engineering* for biological sensing. This is where my interest in nanobio-analysis** began, which shaped my research project’s directions and, subsequently, my career. After completing my doctorate in the United States, I started my postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School to conduct clinical studies with an approach of point-of-care diagnostics. I returned to Korea to study magnetic nanoparticles’ use to develop miniaturized disease detection platforms in IBS-CNM.


Annals: Can you tell us about your current research at IBS-CNM?
Yu: I’m working on developing miniaturized point-of-care platforms for faster and more accurate detection and diagnosis of COVID-19. Currently, only hospitals and health centers with the proper equipment can conduct the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)*** test, a standard method for confirming COVID-19. The PCR method amplifies the number of viral nucleic acids to detect through multiple thermal cycles, and the whole assay takes over an hour for a single test to be done. However, by using gold nanoparticles**** that generate heat, we have shortened the PCR process to six minutes. Additionally, because we only need a light source to activate the PCR assay, the machinery was reduced in size, making it more efficient to use in the scenario of on-site tests. Our research also has the potential to change the way we diagnose diseases, as further research could allow for its application in detecting and diagnosing AIDS, malaria, and cancer, among others.


Annals: Why did you choose IBS-CNM’s Global Post-doctorate Fellowship (GPF) program?
Yu: Not only does IBS CNM offer its full support for research resources, funds, and collaboration with other leading researchers in the field, but it also encourages us to choose our projects that can make the world a better place. Especially, IBS CNM has studied and provided the necessary high-quality nanoparticles and collaboration with some of the world’s leading minds in biomedical research that were instrumental in developing my research.

 
Annals: How has IBS CNM contributed to your research opportunities?
Yu: What makes IBS CNM unique is the enormous research network that facilitates interdisciplinary studies. Being part of IBS CNM, I’ve met people with different backgrounds, and everyone has their fresh take on the various on-going projects. I also had the opportunity to take part in a joint research project with some of the most brilliant minds at Harvard Medical School for two years before returning to Korea to focus on my current project.


Annals: How has your experience at Harvard contributed to your current research?
Yu: Harvard is the home to some of the most notable medical researchers worldwide, with whom I had the opportunity to collaborate on a research project to create the methodology of next-generation point-of-care diagnostics. It was fascinating to collaborate with people with so much knowledge and experience. One of the things I most enjoyed was their work ethic and collaborative environment, which I found very motivating.


Annals: What is the most important thing you have learned throughout your career?
Yu: The importance of insight. In life, we always have to make important decisions that shape the path that we are on. In my experience, insight is the determining factor between a good decision and a decision you’ll regret in the future. However, to gain insight, we have to amass experience, by dabbling in different areas of interest until we find what truly motivates us to make a change.

There’s a saying, “if it doesn’t work, then make it work*****.” These words may not make much sense at first, but I’ve come to realize that things that are thought to be impossible are only so because people aren’t willing to do what it takes to make them possible. In science, knowledge and insight gained through experience are the difference between seeing a problem and solving it.

 

Annals: Is there any advice you could give to aspiring researchers?

Yu: It may sound obvious, but I would advise them to try their hand at different things, even ones they’re not primarily interested in. I started out majoring in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Physics but ended up pursuing a career in nanotechnology and its applications in biomedicine. Nothing is set in stone.

Take, for example, IBS CNM’s Science Factory program******. It’s a great way for aspiring researchers to conduct their projects, but sometimes students panic when they haven’t mapped out their entire future after the program. However, a few months isn’t enough time for some people to know the path they want to take with their research and that’s okay. Students should strive to gain all the experience they can—when they find something worth dedicating their life to, they will find inspiration even in the most unlikely place.

*                 *                 *

   The future applications of Dr. Yu’s research are limitless and with his paper being reviewed and published soon, we could very well buy illness and disease-detection kits alongside pregnancy tests in pharmacies and convenience stores within the next decade. In the meantime, Dr. Yu will be returning to the United States at the end of this month to continue his groundbreaking research at Harvard.

 

*The science that develops structures and devices using light to study biological systems

**The use of nano-biotechnology to study biochemical analytes and molecules

***A technique to duplicate DNA samples for study, through repeated heating and cooling cycles

****According to Science Direct, gold nanoparticles are “small gold particles with a diameter of 1 to 100 nm which, once dispersed in water, form colloidal gold, [a heterogeneous mixture of nano-particles in a solvent].”

*****A translation of “안되면, 되게 하라”

******A research program for undergraduate students offered by IBS CNM, to support aspiring researchers in conducting a research project

출처 : The Yonsei Annals(http://annals.yonsei.ac.kr)

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Nov 3, 2020

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