Dr Hunseok Lee has known since childhood that he wanted to grow up to become a scientist. “You get to wear white gowns, look through a microscope at various substances so small they can’t be seen by the naked eye — those things were very attractive to me when I was young,” says Lee. But the realities of putting research into practice and translating ideas into experiments have proven far more strenuous than the young Lee anticipated. “The things I’m thinking in my head and have studied through papers can go wrong once I decide to move to the experimental phase,” he says with a laugh.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Pharmacology
Seoul National University
Currently, Lee is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pharmacology at Seoul National University, where the general focus of his laboratory’s work is protein-protein interactions. Lee’s work is specifically related to the Smad class of proteins — tumor suppressors that are expressed at different levels in different cancer cell lines. It has been shown that Smad7 levels decrease when cancer is present and that there is a correlation between decreasing levels of Smad7 and poor patient outcome (Kim YH et al. 2004). So among other studies designed to elucidate the role of Smad proteins in cancer effects and outcomes, the laboratory is studying the mechanisms that cause Smad7 to decrease while attempting to identify the proteins it interacts with.
An important methodology in this research has been comparing cytokine secretion changes in cancer patient samples in the presence or absence of different Smad interaction partners. Another project assesses cytokine secretions in response to administration of a novel cancer vaccine developed by Lee’s laboratory. Approximately 20 Korean patients at a time are administered the vaccine, and 10 different cytokines are measured by the lab at various time points (such as weekly and monthly). They have been using these cytokine level measurements to determine if the vaccine functions well and whether it is more effective than existing vaccines. For both experimental approaches, the laboratory relies on Bio-Rad’s Bio-Plex multiplex suspension array system.
When determining which technology platform to use for their multiplex-based experiments, Lee’s laboratory initially tested a Bio-Rad Bio-Plex kit against a multiplex kit from another supplier. “We got contradicting results in our experiments between the two kits from the two different suppliers,” says Lee. “So we tested three kits from each company, and obtained the exact same results with all three Bio-Plex kits. Each of the other company’s kits yielded a different result, so after that we stuck with Bio-Rad multiplex products.”
Lee explains that the Bio-Plex system enables them to conduct research — both in their cytokine-related protein interaction studies and in their vaccine efficacy work — that is otherwise not feasible. “Using the Bio-Plex system allows us to obtain results easily within a short amount of time,” he says. “If I tried the same experiments using ELISA, the investment of both time and money would be prohibitive. Because we measure ten cytokines at a time, the number of plates needed for ELISA experimentation would be ten times more. Summarizing and analyzing these results would be very difficult if not impossible.”
Lee’s laboratory hopes to continue to contribute to cancer research and positively impact patient disease outcomes using a two-pronged approach: uncovering ways to improve the prognosis for cancer patients through manipulation of Smad protein expression levels, and developing vaccines that prevent patients from contracting or succumbing to disease. “Using the Bio-Plex system to measure cytokine levels has yielded meaningful drug and clinical sample results that have helped us advance our efforts to eventually improve cancer patient outcomes,” says Lee. “We expect this multiplex analysis approach to continue to play an important role as this research continues.”
Kim YH et al. (2004). Prognostic significance of the expression of Smad4 and Smad7 in human gastric carcinomas. Ann Oncol 15, 574–580.