"[This] is an opportunity to test potential disease-modifying therapies."
Kateri Spinelli, Ph.D.
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Un Jung Kang, M.D.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2008 edition of PDF's quarterly newsletter, News & Review.
Dr. Un Jung Kang has a clear focus to his work: building a bridge between basic science discoveries and clinical practice.
As a young researcher, he realized the importance of building bridges between areas of science and among scientists themselves. Now he uses this knowledge in all of his roles — laboratory scientist, clinician, clinical trial investigator and teacher — to build bridges between science and real treatments for people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Early in his career, Dr. Kang used seed grant funding from PDF to develop his theories about antioxidants and PD. These grants enabled him to gather enough data to win a larger and longer-term grant — an RO1 — from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2003. Preparing an RO1 proposal requires significant preparatory research and outside funding. Dr. Kang told News & Review, “PDF funding of $105,000 over three years became the seed to expand my research into a $1.2 million research project for the next five years.”
Dr. Kang continues to develop his ideas through what he calls multidisciplinary and translational approaches to PD. A neurologist by training, he performed his fellowship at Columbia University Medical Center under Stanley Fahn, M.D. His current research at the University of Chicago Medical Center, which he joined in 1993, focuses on both the causes of PD and the motor complications of its therapies.
His PDF-funded studies focused on how environmental toxins lead to the damage of dopamine neurons by examining the vulnerability of these neurons to oxidative stress and mitochondrial disruption. His recent studies extend these findings by studying how certain genes contribute to the same destructive processes. The evolution of his research has made Dr. Kang an important contributor to our understanding of how environmental factors and genetics interact to cause PD.
Dr. Kang believes that his role as a clinician strengthens his work as a scientist, and vice versa. His clinical work led him to establish the University of Chicago Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders, which brings together medical specialists to treat and research movement disorders.
He advances treatments by working to develop biomarkers — tools that would enable us to track PD’s progress and evaluate potential treatments — and by participating in several late-stage clinical research studies. He also devotes considerable time to teaching and mentoring undergraduate, graduate and medical students, neurology residents and others.
Dr. Kang’s experience demonstrates the importance of seed grant programs. They help gifted young investigators to grow their careers, keep their interest in Parkinson’s, and ensure that their innovative ideas are executed through the research pipeline. We look forward to seeing the new bridges between science and patient care that Dr. Kang will be building, and the mysteries his work will unveil.
Dr. Kang is Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Clinical Affairs in Neurology and Director of the University of Chicago Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders. Between 1986 and 2003, he received five PDF grants, which totaled $280,000.