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Biomarker Predicts Who Will Have Severe COVID-19
- Airway cell analyses showing an activated immune axis could pinpoint the COVID-19 patients who will most benefit from targeted therapies.- KAIST researchers have identified key markers that could help pinpoint patients who are bound to get a severe reaction to COVID-19 infection. This would help doctors provide the right treatments at the right time, potentially saving lives. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology on August 28. People’s immune systems react differently to infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, ranging from mild to severe, life-threatening responses. To understand the differences in responses, Professor Heung Kyu Lee and PhD candidate Jang Hyun Park from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at KAIST analysed ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequencing data extracted from individual airway cells of healthy controls and of mildly and severely ill patients with COVID-19. The data was available in a public database previously published by a group of Chinese researchers. “Our analyses identified an association between immune cells called neutrophils and special cell receptors that bind to the steroid hormone glucocorticoid,” Professor Lee explained. “This finding could be used as a biomarker for predicting disease severity in patients and thus selecting a targeted therapy that can help treat them at an appropriate time,” he added. Severe illness in COVID-19 is associated with an exaggerated immune response that leads to excessive airway-damaging inflammation. This condition, known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), accounts for 70% of deaths in fatal COVID-19 infections. Scientists already know that this excessive inflammation involves heightened neutrophil recruitment to the airways, but the detailed mechanisms of this reaction are still unclear. Lee and Park’s analyses found that a group of immune cells called myeloid cells produced excess amounts of neutrophil-recruiting chemicals in severely ill patients, including a cytokine called tumour necrosis factor (TNF) and a chemokine called CXCL8. Further RNA analyses of neutrophils in severely ill patients showed they were less able to recruit very important T cells needed for attacking the virus. At the same time, the neutrophils produced too many extracellular molecules that normally trap pathogens, but damage airway cells when produced in excess. The researchers additionally found that the airway cells in severely ill patients were not expressing enough glucocorticoid receptors. This was correlated with increased CXCL8 expression and neutrophil recruitment. Glucocorticoids, like the well-known drug dexamethasone, are anti-inflammatory agents that could play a role in treating COVID-19. However, using them in early or mild forms of the infection could suppress the necessary immune reactions to combat the virus. But if airway damage has already happened in more severe cases, glucocorticoid treatment would be ineffective. Knowing who to give this treatment to and when is really important. COVID-19 patients showing reduced glucocorticoid receptor expression, increased CXCL8 expression, and excess neutrophil recruitment to the airways could benefit from treatment with glucocorticoids to prevent airway damage. Further research is needed, however, to confirm the relationship between glucocorticoids and neutrophil inflammation at the protein level. “Our study could serve as a springboard towards more accurate and reliable COVID-19 treatments,” Professor Lee said. This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea, and Mobile Clinic Module Project funded by KAIST. Figure. Low glucocorticoid receptor (GR) expression led to excessive inflammation and lung damage by neutrophils through enhancing the expression of CXCL8 and other cytokines. Image credit: Professor Heung Kyu Lee, KAIST. Created with Biorender.com. Image usage restrictions: News organizations may use or redistribute these figures and image, with proper attribution, as part of news coverage of this paper only. Publication: Jang Hyun Park, and Heung Kyu Lee. (2020). Re-analysis of Single Cell Transcriptome Reveals That the NR3C1-CXCL8-Neutrophil Axis Determines the Severity of COVID-19. Frontiers in Immunology, Available online at https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2020.02145 Profile: Heung Kyu Lee Associate Professor firstname.lastname@example.org https://www.heungkyulee.kaist.ac.kr/ Laboratory of Host Defenses Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering (GSMSE) The Center for Epidemic Preparedness at KAIST Institute http://kaist.ac.kr Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) Daejeon, Republic of Korea Profile: Jang Hyun Park PhD Candidate email@example.com GSMSE, KAIST (END)
Microscopy Approach Poised to Offer New Insights into Liver Diseases
Researchers have developed a new way to visualize the progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in mouse models of the disease. The new microscopy method provides a high-resolution 3D view that could lead to important new insights into NAFLD, a condition in which too much fat is stored in the liver. “It is estimated that a quarter of the adult global population has NAFLD, yet an effective treatment strategy has not been found,” said professor Pilhan Kim from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at KAIST. “NAFLD is associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes and can sometimes progress to liver failure in serious case.” In the Optical Society (OSA) journal Biomedical Optics Express, Professor Kim and colleagues reported their new imaging technique and showed that it can be used to observe how tiny droplets of fat, or lipids, accumulate in the liver cells of living mice over time. “It has been challenging to find a treatment strategy for NAFLD because most studies examine excised liver tissue that represents just one timepoint in disease progression,” said Professor Kim. “Our technique can capture details of lipid accumulation over time, providing a highly useful research tool for identifying the multiple parameters that likely contribute to the disease and could be targeted with treatment.” Capturing the dynamics of NAFLD in living mouse models of the disease requires the ability to observe quickly changing interactions of biological components in intact tissue in real-time. To accomplish this, the researchers developed a custom intravital confocal and two-photon microscopy system that acquires images of multiple fluorescent labels at video-rate with cellular resolution. “With video-rate imaging capability, the continuous movement of liver tissue in live mice due to breathing and heart beating could be tracked in real time and precisely compensated,” said Professor Kim. “This provided motion-artifact free high-resolution images of cellular and sub-cellular sized individual lipid droplets.” The key to fast imaging was a polygonal mirror that rotated at more than 240 miles per hour to provide extremely fast laser scanning. The researchers also incorporated four different lasers and four high-sensitivity optical detectors into the setup so that they could acquire multi-color images to capture different color fluorescent probes used to label the lipid droplets and microvasculature in the livers of live mice. “Our approach can capture real-time changes in cell behavior and morphology, vascular structure and function, and the spatiotemporal localization of biological components while directly visualizing of lipid droplet development in NAFLD progression,” said Professor Kim. “It also allows the analysis of the highly complex behaviors of various immune cells as NAFLD progresses.” The researchers demonstrated their approach by using it to observe the development and spatial distribution of lipid droplets in individual mice with NAFLD induced by a methionine and choline-deficient diet. Next, they plan to use it to study how the liver microenvironment changes during NAFLD progression by imaging the same mouse over time. They also want to use their microscope technique to visualize various immune cells and lipid droplets to better understand the complex liver microenvironment in NAFLD progression.
Study Finds Interferon Triggers Inflammation in Severe COVID-19
KAIST medical scientists and their colleagues confirmed that the type I interferon response plays a pivotal role in exacerbating inflammation in severe COVID-19 cases. Severe COVID-19 has been shown to be caused by a hyper-inflammatory response. Particularly, inflammatory cytokines secreted by classical monocytes and macrophages are believed to play a crucial role in the severe progression of COVID-19. A new single-cell RNA sequencing analysis of more than 59,000 cells from three different patient cohorts provided a detailed look at patients’ immune responses in severe cases of COVID-19. The results suggest that patients with severe cases of COVID-19 experience increased regulation of the type I interferon (IFN-I) inflammation-triggering pathway, a signature that the researchers also observed in patients hospitalized with severe cases of influenza. Their findings suggest that anti-inflammatory treatment strategies for COVID-19 should also be aimed toward the IFN-I signaling pathway, in addition to targeting inflammatory molecules such as TNF, IL-1, and IL-6, which have been associated with COVID-19. The research team under Professor Eui-Cheol Shin from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering sequenced the RNA from a total of 59,572 blood cells obtained from four healthy donors, eight patients with mild or severe COVID-19, and five patients with severe influenza. By comparison, patients with severe cases of influenza showed increased expression of various IFN-stimulated genes, but did not experience TNF/IL-1 responses as seen in COVID-19 patients. Unlike the flu cohort, patients in the severe COVID-19 cohort exhibited the IFN-I signature concurrently with TNF/IL-1-driven inflammation – a combination also not seen in patients with milder cases of COVID-19. Their result, along with past mouse studies that highlight how the timing of IFN-I expression is critical to determining the outcome of SARS, support targeting IFN-I as a potential treatment strategy for severe COVID-19. Professor Shin said, “This research provides insights for designing therapeutic options for COVID-19 by investigating very closely how the immune cells of COVDI-19 patients develop. We will continue to conduct research on novel therapeutic immune mechanisms and target therapeutic anti-inflammatory medication to improve the survival of severe COVID-19 patients.” This study, conducted in collaboration with Severance Hospital at Yonsei University, Asan Medical Center, and Chungbuk National University, was featured in Science Immunology on July 10. This work was funded by Samsung Science and Technology Foundation and SUHF Fellowship. -PublicationScience Immunology 10 Jul 2020:Vol. 5, Issue 49, eabd1554DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abd1554 -ProfileProfessorEui-Cheol ShinGraduate School of Medical Science and EngineeringLaboratory of Immunology & Infectious Diseases (http://liid.kaist.ac.kr/)firstname.lastname@example.orgKAIST
Professor J.H. Lee Wins the Innovators in Science Award
Professor Jeong Ho Lee from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering won the Early-Career Scientist Award of the 2020 Innovators in Science Award. The New York Academy of Sciences administers the award in partnership with Takeda Pharmaceutical Company. The Innovators in Science Award grants two prizes of US $200,000 each year: one to an Early-Career Scientist and the other to a well-established Senior Scientist who have distinguished themselves for the creative thinking and impact of their rare disease research. The Senior Scientist Awardee is Dr. Adrian R. Krainer, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory whose research focused on the mechanisms and control of RNA splicing. Prof. Lee is recognized for his research investigating genetic mutations in stem cells in the brain that result in rare developmental brain disorders. He was the first to identify the causes of intractable epilepsies and has identified the genes responsible for several developmental brain disorders, including focal cortical dysplasia, Joubert syndrome—a disorder characterized by an underdevelopment of the brainstem—and hemimegaloencephaly, which is the abnormal enlargement of one side of the brain. “It is a great honor to be recognized by a jury of such globally respected scientists whom I greatly admire,” said Prof. Lee. “More importantly, this award validates research into brain somatic mutations as an important area of exploration to help patients suffering from devastating and untreatable neurological disorders.” Prof. Lee also is the Director of the National Creative Research Initiative Center for Brain Somatic Mutations, and Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of SoVarGen, a biopharmaceutical company aiming to discover novel therapeutics and diagnosis for intractable central nervous system (CNS) diseases caused by low-level somatic mutation. The Innovators in Science Award is a limited submission competition in which research universities, academic institutions, government or non-profit institutions, or equivalent from around the globe with a well-established record of scientific excellence are invited to nominate their most promising Early-Career Scientists and their most outstanding Senior Scientists working in one of four selected therapeutic fields of neuroscience, gastroenterology, oncology, and regenerative medicine. The 2020 Winners will be honored at the virtual Innovators in Science Award Ceremony and Symposium in October 2020.
Breastfeeding Helps Prevent Mothers from Developing Diabetes after Childbirth
A team of South Korean researchers found that lactation can lower the incidence and reduce the risk of maternal postpartum diabetes. The researchers identified that lactation increases the mass and function of pancreatic beta cells through serotonin production. The team suggested that sustained improvements in pancreatic beta cells, which can last for years even after the cessation of lactation, improve mothers’ metabolic health in addition to providing health benefits for infants. Pregnancy imposes a substantial metabolic burden on women through weight gain and increased insulin resistance. Various other factors, including a history of gestational diabetes, maternal age, and obesity, further affect women’s risk of progressing to diabetes after delivery, and the risk of postpartum diabetes increases more in women who have had gestational diabetes and/or repeated deliveries. Diabetes-related complications include damage to blood vessels, which can lead to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke, and problems with the nerves, eyes, kidneys, and many more. Since diabetes can pose a serious threat to mothers’ metabolic health, the management of maternal metabolic risk factors is important, especially in the peripartum period. Previous epidemiological studies have reported that lactation reduces the risk of postpartum diabetes, but the mechanisms underlying this benefit have remained elusive. The study, published in Science Translational Medicine on April 29, explains the biology underpinning this observation on the beneficial effects of lactation. Professor Hail Kim from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at KAIST led and jointly conducted the study in conjunction with researchers from the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital (SNUBH) and Chungnam National University (CNU) in Korea, and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in the US. In their study, the team observed that the milk-secreting hormone ‘prolactin’ in lactating mothers not only promotes milk production, but also plays a major role in stimulating insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells that regulate blood glucose in the body. The researchers also found that ‘serotonin’, known as a chemical that contributes to wellbeing and happiness, is produced in pancreatic beta cells during lactation. Serotonin in pancreatic beta cells act as an antioxidant and reduce oxidative stress, making mothers’ beta cells healthier. Serotonin also induces the proliferation of beta cells, thereby increasing the beta cell mass and helping maintain proper glucose levels. The research team conducted follow-up examinations on a total of 174 postpartum women, 85 lactated and 99 non-lactated, at two months postpartum and annually thereafter for at least three years. The results demonstrated that mothers who had undergone lactation improved pancreatic beta cell mass and function, and showed improved glucose homeostasis with approximately 20mg/dL lower glucose levels, thereby reducing the risk of postpartum diabetes in women. Surprisingly, this beneficial effect was maintained after the cessation of lactation, for more than three years after delivery. Professor Kim said, “We are happy to prove that lactation benefits female metabolic health by improving beta cell mass and function as well as glycemic control.” “Our future studies on the modulation of the molecular serotonergic pathway in accordance with the management of maternal metabolic risk factors may lead to new therapeutics to help prevent mothers from developing metabolic disorders,” he added. This work was supported by grants from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the National Research Council of Science and Technology (NST) of Korea, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation, and the Health Fellowship Foundation. Image credit: Professor Hail Kim, KAIST Image usage restrictions: News organizations may use or redistribute this image, with proper attribution, as part of news coverage of this paper only. Publication: Moon, J. H et al. (2020) ‘Lactation improves pancreatic β cell mass and function through serotonin production.’ Science Translational Medicine, 12, eaay0455. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.aay0455 Profile: Hail Kim, MD, PhD email@example.com Associate Professor Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering (GSMSE) Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) Profile: Hak Chul Jang, MD, PhD firstname.lastname@example.org Professor Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Seoul National University Bundang Hospital (SNUBH) President Korean Diabetes Association Profile: Joon Ho Moon, MD, PhD email@example.com Clinical Fellow Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism SNUBH Profile: Hyeongseok Kim, MD, PhD firstname.lastname@example.org Assistant Professor Chungnam National University (CNU) Profile: Professor Michael S. German, MD Michael.German@ucsf.edu Professor Diabetes Center University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) (END)
Professor Youngseok Ju Awarded the 13th ASAN Award for Young Medical Scientists
Professor Youngseok Ju from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering was selected for the 13th ASAN Award for Young Medical Scientists under the age of 40. Professor Ju will receive 50 million won in prize money. The ASAN Foundation established this Award in 2007 to encourage young medical scientists who accomplished outstanding achievements in basic and clinical medicine. The winners are chosen based on a comprehensive assessment of consistency and originality, domestic and international impact, and contributions to medical development and fostering future generations. Professor Ju is known for having identified the generation principle of cancer genome mutations. In particular, he is recognized for his contributions to the development of cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, by having proven that some cases of lung cancer can occur from destructive changes in chromosomes in lung cells regardless of smoking. The award ceremony will be held on March 19 in Seoul. The other award will be given to Professor Yong-Ho Lee from the Yonsei University College of Medicine.
New Members of KAST and Y-KAST 2019
(Professor Eui-Cheol Shin from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering) Professor Eui-Cheol Shin from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering became a new fellow of the Korean Academy of Science and Technology (KAST) along with 25 other scientists in Korea. He is one of the top virus immunologists in Korea and has published a review article in Nature Reviews Immunology. Meanwhile KAST selected and announced 26 young scientists under the age 43 who have shown great potential and the creativity to carry out next-generation research. The list of Y-KAST (Young Korean Academy of Science and Technology) includes six KAIST professors: Professor Ji Oon Lee from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, Professor Mi Hee Lim from the Department of Chemistry, Professor Shin-Hyun Kim from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Professor Jung-Ryul Lee from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Professor Hyunjoo Jenny Lee from the School of Electrical Engineering, and Professor Yeon Sik Jung from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. KAST conferred their fellowships and Y-KAST membership during the New Year Reception.
Professor Jeong-Ho Lee Named the KAISTian of 2018
(Professor Jeong-Ho Lee (right) poses with President Sung-Chul Shin) Professor Jeong-Ho Lee from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering was selected as the KAISTian of the Year of 2018. The award was established in 2001 and recognizes the most outstanding scholars who have made significant research and scholastic achievements during the year. Professor Lee was awarded during the New Year ceremony held in the auditorium on January 2. Professor Lee has investigated mutations arising in the brain for decades and has published in renowned journals such as Nature, Nature Medicine, and Cell. Last August, Professor Lee reported breakthrough research on glioblastoma in Nature, giving insight into understanding how the mutation causing glioblastoma starts and suggested novel ways to treat glioblastoma, which was thought to be incurable. (Click for more) Professor Lee’s Translational Neurogenetics Laboratory lab is investigating innovative diagnostics and therapeutics for untreatable brain disorders including intractable epilepsy and glioblastoma. To commercialize his technology, he established the tech-startup SoVarGen and now works as its CTO. Professor Lee credited all his lab colleagues and staff. “I know all of this research would not have possible without their sweat and effort. I am happy to receive this honorable award on behalf of them.” Remembering the beginning of his career at KAIST in 2012, Professor Lee said “KAIST seemed to be a very high and formidable barrier for me, after completing my medical education in Korea. I thank my department professors and colleagues who led me to focus on the research path that I really wanted. They provided everything for my research environment to help make good results.” “I will continue to strive for promoting the well-being of humanity by addressing various incurable diseases as well as developing novel therapeutics. That will be the way to promote the stature of KAIST at home and abroad,” he added.
Professor Ju, to Receive Grants from HFSP
(Professor Young Seok Ju) Professor Young Seok Ju from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering was selected as a young investigator to receive research funds from the Human Frontiers Science Program. The Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP) was founded in 1989 with members of the G7 and European Union to stimulate innovative research in the field of life sciences. Professor Ju placed third out of the eight teams that were selected from 158 applicants representing 60 countries. He is now the fourth Korean to receive a research grant as a young investigator. Professor Jae Kyoung Kim from the Department of Mathematical Sciences also received this prize last year, hence KAIST has produced grant recipients for two consecutive years. Professor Ju is a medical doctor specializing in cancer genomics and computer biology. He has been studying somatic mutations and their functional consequences in human cancer in a bioinformatics way. He has published papers in international journals including Nature, Science, Genome Research, and Journal of Clinical Oncology. With a title ‘Tracing AID/APOBEC- and MSI-mediated hyper-mutagenesis in the clonal evolution of gastric cancer,’ Professor Ju will receive 1.05 million dollars for three years along with Professor Bon-Kyoung Koo from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at Austrian Academy of Sciences, and Sinppert Hugo from University Medical Center Utrecht. Professor Ju said, “As a young investigator, it is my great honor to receive this research fund from this organization. Through this internationally collaborative research, I will carry out groundbreaking research to understand the pathophysiology of cancers at a molecular level.”
Professor Gou Young Koh, 2018 Laureate of Ho-Am Prize
Distinguished Professor Gou Young Koh from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering was appointed a 2018 laureate in medicine of the Ho-Am Prize by the Ho-Am Foundation. Professor Koh is a renowned expert in the field of tumor angiogenesis by exploring the hidden nature of capillary and lymphatic vessels in human organs. He was recognized for demonstrating the effective reduction of tumor progression and metastasis via tumor vessel normalization. This counterintuitive study result is regarded as a stepping stone for a drug discovery to prevent microvascular diseases. Besides Professor Koh, Professor Hee Oh from Yale University (Science), Professor Nam-Gyu Park from Sungkyunkwan University (Engineering), Opera Singer Kwangchul Youn (The Arts) and Sister Carla Kang (Community Service) received awards. The Ho-Am Prize is presented to individuals who have contributed to academics, the arts, and social development, or furthered the welfare of humanity, and commemorates the noble spirit of public service espoused by the late Chairman Byung-chull Lee, who used the pen name Ho-Am. It was established in 1990 by Kun-Hee Lee, the chairman of Samsung. Awards have been presented to 143 individuals worth a total of 24.4 billion KRW.
Two Professors Receive the Asan Medical Award
(Professor Ho Min Kim and Chair Profesor Eunjoon Kim (from far right) Chair Professor Eunjoon Kim of the Department of Biological Sciences and Professor Ho Min Kim from the Graduate School of Medical Science & Engineering won the 11th Asan Medical Award in the areas of basic medicine and young medical scholar on March 21. The Asan Medical Award has been recognizing the most distinguished scholars in the areas of basic and clinical medicines annually since 2007. Chair Professor Kim won the 300 million KRW award in recognition of his research in the mechanism of synaptic brain dysfunction and its relation with neural diseases. The young medical scholar’s award recognizes a promising scholar under the age of 40. Professor Kim won the award for identifying the key protein structure and molecular mechanism controlling immunocytes and neurons. He earned a 50 million KRW prize.
Professor Jeong Ho Lee Receives the 2015 Pediatric Epilepsies Research Award
The award identifies leading scientists worldwide and funds their cutting-edge research in epilepsy. The Citizen United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) announced on September 7, 2015, that Jeong Ho Lee, a professor of the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at KAIST, will be awarded the 2015 Pediatric Epilepsies Research Award. The Pediatric Epilepsies Research Award is given annually to a researcher who has conducted novel, innovative research projects that address severe, intractable pediatric epilepsies as well as collaborative, interdisciplinary projects that explore new approaches to find a treatment for pediatric epilepsies. Lee was recognized for his leading study in the field of intractable epilepsy. He is the first Korean who has ever received this award, securing a research grant of USD 250,000 for two years. Lee has conducted research on brain somatic mutations as the novel cause of childhood intractable epilepsy. Pediatric epilepsies account for approximately 70% of all cases of epilepsy. Established in 1998, CURE is a non-profit American organization based in Chicago, Illinois, which is committed to funding research and various initiatives that will lead to breakthroughs to cure epilepsy. Since its inception, CURE has been at the forefront of epilepsy research, raising more than USD 32 million to support researchers and scientists worldwide. It has also awarded more than 180 cutting-edge projects in 13 countries.
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