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A Major Change Brought About by a Minor Thing (Dong-kyu Kwak, KRIBB Campus)

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  • Registration Date : 2016-06-29
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According to the Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, the success rate of new drug invention is only 0.02. Furthermore, it usually takes about 10 to 15 years to start a research and commercialize the research outcome. As such, drug development is one of the areas that consume a lot of time and cost but rarely yield fruitful outcomes. While researchers have continued to perform research about effective drug invention technology for long, a joint research team of KRIBB and Seoul National University announced last April that they invented drug screening technology using nano ion cells to find new drug candidate substances within a short time. The outcome was published on the online version of The Angewandte Chemie, a world-renowned chemistry journal. We met with Dong-kyu Kwak, a USTian who participated in the project.
 

What kind of chemical principle is applied to drug screening technology using nano ion cells?
 
A nano ion cell has small holes of a nanometer size, the so-called ‘nanopore’ embedded in a thin insulator film and allows an ionic current to flow between the two liquid storages. In particular, we used borosilicate glass pyrex substrate―the nano ion cell that has strong chemical resistance―in this research to remarkably enhance the ratio of signal to noise. With the nano ion cell, we can measure the signal to determine the size, charge, and shape of biomolecules (nucleic acids, proteins, etc.) when an ionic current is induced in an electrophoretic manner through nanopores in the presence of an external electric field.


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What is the most significant meaning of this research?
 
Protein-protein interaction has been highlighted as a promising target to cure incurable diseases including cancer. However, the mass screening technology applicable here is hard to invent because of various technical limitations such as the requirement for a large amount of samples, pre-processing, and low sensitivity. The technology we developed allows high sensitivity, is label-free, and can conduct quick analysis with a minimum quantity of samples. As such, it  becomes possible to have a high-efficiency and large-volume screening that can save 4,500 times more samples than the existing nuclear magnetic resonance spectros. We believe this technology will make a great contribution to raising the usefulness of new drug invention by lowering the cost and increasing the efficiency of drug screening phase, which costs the most time and money in drug development.
We heard that you had difficulties as there were rare research cases using nano ion cells in the country.
 
It is no exaggeration to say that the Seoul National University is the only one  conducting research on such subject. In the early stage, we faced various challenges, including accurate protein measurement, and were desperately in need of advice from experts. Just in time, we heard news that Prof. Min-jun Kim, a prominent researcher in the area of bimolecular measurement using nano ion cells was going to hold a seminar in the country. This was the occasion where I acquainted myself with him, and later I followed him visiting the US to obtain critical advice about the challenges we were going through and learned in-depth the knowledge behind test methods of test methods.


You had a particular jinx when you achieved success in a certain test in your research.
 
Sometime ago, I used to have dreams about a bobbed-hair ghost wearing a headset. Coincidentally, after I had such dream, I was able to get a good test result. After repeating such a thing a few times, I always carried out a test on the day after I dreamed of the ghost. My lab colleagues dubbed the ghost as ‘Dawn.’ 
Once, when I was a little exhausted with the failures in a yearlong test, I dreamed of Dawn that night. The next day, I tested using protein inserted into nano ion cells as usual. Then, some different test results showed up on the monitor. Afterward, I was able to obtain the series of test results, as published in the paper; I felt like that something stuck in my heart has finally been broken down.
 

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You can take this interview as a chance to express your gratitude to the people who helped you with the research.
 
I felt overwhelmed when the outcome of this research, which was the first thesis in my life. I appreciate Dawn, and my lab family who helped me focus my concentration on the research project. In particular, I highly appreciate Dr. Mi-gyeong Lee who greatly helped me summarize and write the research result as a thesis, as well as Prof. Seung-uk Ji who led me both materially and morally to use domestically unknown research methods. I dare say that all of you are the greatest luck I have had in my life. I respect and love you all!


Tell us about your plan and ambition.

Furthermore, I expect to build a platform to be used across all bio engineering sectors by conducting researches using various biomolecules.
I say a dictum over and over to myself. It is “Carpe diem,” which is widely known, and means “Enjoy the present.” But, it also means “Don’t lose the opportunities right in front of your eyes.” There would be no future if there is no present. I don’t want to miss the opportunities that arrived right before me and would like to create wonderful future with them.