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College of Medicine Student Will Meet Nobel Laureates in Germany

Andrew Kim is trying to marry two loves: medicine and music.

He studied classical violin as a youth and grew up in a family that loved music. Kim’s mother taught piano. His father sang while his younger sister played both violin and piano. His younger brother grew up to become an acclaimed violinist soloing with orchestras around the world.

"I thought that I would go into music,” says Kim, a fourth-year graduate student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) and the Molecular and Developmental Biology (MDB) Graduate Program, working toward a joint MD and PhD offered by the College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s. "I’ve been around musicians for so long that’s what I thought I wanted to be. There came this turning point where I had this realization, ‘What would our world be like if the major classical composers had lived until they were 80?’”

The question helped nudge Kim toward a career of science and medicine and to unlock what he terms as his "inner mad scientist.” He says generating mutant animals to study disease and being able to manipulate key pathways in cells and tissues are akin to be an artist, "orchestrating cellular acrobatics to tell your story to a wider scientific audience.”

Kim, a 29-year-old Cupertino, California native will get his chance to share his story at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting held June 24-29, 2018, in Lindau, Germany. The focus of this year’s meeting is physiology and medicine. Since 1951, Nobel Laureates have convened annually in Lindau to participate in lectures and small group discussions with a selected group of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers chosen from across the globe. 

Forty-three Nobel Laureates will take part in this year’s meeting which focuses on physiology/medicine. Kim is one of 29 U.S. graduate students among the 600 young scientists from 84 countries attending this year’s activities. His participation is sponsored by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) with additional support from Boehringer Ingelheim Stiftung.

"I am a classical musician by training. I played the violin and a lot of composers unfortunately passed away when they were really young. Their music influenced society. I was curious why did they die so early and what medicine was like at that time?” asks Kim. "Why are we living so much longer now?” 

Kim also attributes his interest in medicine to his father, an electrical engineer, who designed pacemakers.

"I grew up playing with the implantable defibrillators,” says Kim. "He would just bring some samples home and I would toss them around and play with them. That definitely helped spark a curiosity in medicine, particularly cardiology.”

As an undergrad at Duke University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Kim studied biology and minored in Spanish. He was a member of the Duke Symphony and performed at fundraisers for the Duke Cancer Center and at patients’ bedsides at Duke Children’s Hospital.

"I saw medicine and music as complementary and so in college I didn’t want to abandon one over the other,” says Kim. "Music can definitely benefit the patient in all sorts of ways. It doesn’t really matter what genre of music. It’s a universal language that everyone understands. It can be comforting. Sometimes words can’t express what they are feeling. There are things they can relate to with music.”

At Duke, Kim studied under the guidance of Margaret Kirby, PhD, a leader in heart development research. He also spent summers working at the National Institutes of Health and in the laboratories of the National Cancer Institute and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. After graduation, Kim, as a post-baccalaureate fellow, worked with noted heart researcher Cecilia Lo, PhD, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Kim’s contributions led to publications in several journals, including Nature and Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging.

Kim’s quest for answers continues in the laboratory of Katherine Yutzey, PhD, a Cincinnati Children’s researcher and professor in the UC Department of Pediatrics. There he studies diseased heart valves in the lab with hopes of using that knowledge to someday better treat children with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder of the body’s connective tissue.

"These patients are often extremely tall and thin with very long fingers and toes,” says Kim. "Many also have skeletal malformations, troubled breathing and/or vision problems. They are at risk of heart failure from valve regurgitation and rupture of the aorta, which is most life-threatening.”

Regurgitation occurs when the heart valves fail to close properly and blood flows in the wrong direction, explains Kim.

"These valves have compromised structural integrity, which has generally been viewed to be the result of passive wear and tear,” says Kim. "We have found that there is an infiltration of immune cells into the heart. We don’t know what their roles are during this disease and it’s what we are trying to investigate.”

"I am using a mouse model of Marfan syndrome,” says Kim. "Patients with this disorder have valve abnormalities and we are using this animal model as a system to examine valve pathogenesis and also study what these immune cells might be doing. We have also initiated collaborations with scientists in Japan and Canada to look at valve specimens in larger gene-edited animal models of Marfan syndrome and human patients for translational applicability.”

Kim received support from his mentors in his quest to attend the Nobel Laureate meeting.

"Andy has developed important research skills and is a thoughtful, interactive and innovative student,” says Yutzey in a letter of recommendation for Kim. "His research presentations are clear and persuasive. He has a strong grasp on the research literature and already is an active participant in data interpretation and experimental design. He brings strong research experience to his current work, thus leading in new and innovative research directions.”

Kim says he is excited about his upcoming trip to Lindau.

"It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am extremely honored to have been selected,” says Kim. "I am excited to meet and network with so many young scientists, my future scientific colleagues and collaborators from around the world. Additionally, I can’t wait to interact with the Nobel laureates and get insight into how they approach science. It will certainly be an incredible learning experience for me personally and professionally, and I hope to come back with new perspectives that I can share with others.”