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Establishment of UST21 education system

Become a university with industry-academia-research integration

Strengthening the cooperation between UST-GFRIs-corporations
Strengthen the cooperation between GFRIs
Support business start-ups with GFRI-based technologies

Establish global status as a national research university

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Providing creative educational environment by applying cutting-edge technology
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My Research, My Fight

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  • Registration Date : 2019-09-26
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Story about Student

My Research, My Fight

Hong Ki-hyun (Integrated Program, UST-Korea Institute of Science and Technology(KIST) School, Biomedical Engineering Major)

As the famous sentence in Herman Hesse’s Demian goes, “The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world.” This came to mind in our conversation with Hong Ki-hyun, a student at UST-KIST. He spoke placidly about his experience at the school and his research, in a quiet manner that seemed almost unemotional. However, thinking about his story, we realize it had a hidden side not expressed in words- the struggle beneath the quiet surface. As all researchers do, Hong must have also fought hard to bring his work out into the world, knowing that this would be the key to his own growth.

Dream of Cure for Cancer Led to Stem Cell Research

Hong was a young man with a deep interest in new drug development when he first started at UST-KIST campus in September 2011. Initially, his goal was to develop gene therapy for cancer. However, after experiencing research on a wide range of topics at the Center for Biomaterials, he found his field in stem cell therapy development. Recently, he succeeded in developing a biocompatible injectable hydrogel-based stem cell delivery system with professor Song Soo-chang’s team, the results of which he published in the international journals Advanced Science and Biomaterials.

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at his research. Stem cells reproduce themselves or generate other kinds of cells through cell division, proliferation and differentiation. This makes them powerful active ingredients for cellular therapy, in which they are injected into the patient intravenously or intraperitoneally. However, they have a critical flaw. Stem cells injected into the body are transported all around the body, reducing the efficiency of treatment in the targeted area. Furthermore, their viability is compromised as they face the challenge of adapting to the in vivo environment.

We used the hydrogel as a way to enhance the efficacy and viability of stem cells. This hydrogel is liquid at room temperature, but hardens into gel form at body temperature. Using the hydrogel, we were able to introduce bioactive materials that can control the differentiation of stem cells as desired. This creates a favorable environment for stem cells to survive and differentiate in the body, maximizing the tissue regeneration function.

Precious Life Lessons from His Teacher

Hong had been aware of UST for several years before he began his studies here. At the time, he understood it to be a school with good student welfare policies. Although that was highly attractive in itself, Hong realized the true value of UST when he came to experience it himself as a student.

“The great thing about UST is that you get to observe national research projects from a macroscopic perspective, because you are studying in a government funded research institute. You also have easy access to the most advanced research equipment. The academic advisors give students full support to broaden their research experience, especially support for funding your research expenses.”

Hong’s own academic advisor, professor Song, holds a special place in his heart. We asked him what was the greatest lesson learned from his mentor.

“Professor Song emphasizes logic and flow most of all when it comes to his student’s proposals, PowerPoint slides and papers. The logic has to be sound and there has to be a smooth flow of thought in order for your points to come across strongly. I had a lot of trouble with that in the beginning, but learned as I kept writing. He taught me a valuable skill that I couldn't have learned anywhere else. It will be a precious lifelong asset.”

The wide range of experience gained at UST has planted a seed in Hong’s heart, a new goal. He would like to participate in management and strategic planning of research institutes, corporations and public institutions in the STEM field. After graduating from UST, he plans to move on to the MBA program at the KAIST business school.

“I gained a lot of experience being in charge of national research projects at this lab, and understand the problems that researchers face in Korea. I want to make recommendations for science policies that come from my experience as a researcher in the field, so that government funding for research will be evenly distributed among researchers. This is a goal I really hope to accomplish one day.”

Continuing Diligence and Thoughtfulness Wherever He May Go

Hong is now in his final semester, which he plans to dedicate to his research on injectable hydrogels with beta-cyclodextrin. He has his research plan laid out for the development of immunotherapy and other treatments for incurable diseases.

What will Hong be doing, and where will he be after graduating from UST? As of now, Hong himself isn’t sure. He could become a researcher at an institute, or an employee in the private or public sector. Although he thinks it will be difficult, he may come across a great opportunity for a postdoctoral fellowship overseas. Whatever the future holds for him, we hope he will keep up his fight to break out of his shell. It is when we break out of the world we inhabit that we achieve growth.