LOS ANGELES - Albert D. Kim, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of Southern California (USC), is the first Keck School of Medicine of USC researcher to win a Hearst Fellowship for his work investigating how to turn stem cells into nephrons, the functional units of the kidney.
Kim, who works in the laboratory of Andy McMahon, director of USC's stem cell research center, aims to isolate and generate a large number of kidney progenitor cells with the ultimate goal of repairing damaged adult kidneys.
Although researchers have recently used stem cells to form primitive kidney organoids, mystery shrouds the process and requirements of kidney formation in humans. By comparing kidney cells from human and mouse embryos with kidney cells produced in the laboratory, Kim will determine the optimal conditions and genetic profile for kidney formation.
The fellowship would have come as no surprise to Kim's grandfather, who predicted that his five-year-old grandson would grow up to become the family's first scientist.
"My grandfather noticed my curiosity about nature and animals, and he was a good judge of character," said Kim, whose parents both work in non-science-related fields -- as a florist, and as a graphic designer and landscape architect.
Kim, who grew up in Los Angeles' Koreatown, earned his bachelor's degree, master's degree and Ph.D. at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). While earning these degrees, he worked in the laboratory of David Traver, Ph.D., and studied the early formation of blood stem cells in zebrafish embryos.
When McMahon gave a guest lecture at UCSD, his clarity of scientific thought made a strong impression on Kim. In 2015, Kim became a postdoctoral research associate in McMahon's laboratory at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, where he is applying his expertise to the challenge of kidney regeneration.
"My longstanding scientific interest has been aimed at understanding how the microenvironment of immature cellular precursors is important for properly instructing specific cell fates," he said.
Kim will also collaborate with the laboratory of Megan McCain, Ph.D., at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, which will help produce a matrix scaffold upon which to grow the stem cells.
"Dr. Kim is just the sort of talented young scientist we seek to encourage and acknowledge as a Hearst Fellow," said McMahon. "His proposal is ambitious, as it should be for a scientist of his caliber. The potential is enormous, the time opportune and Dr. Kim has the credentials to make his mark in this important new area."
ABOUT THE KECK SCHOOL OF MEDICINE OF USC
Founded in 1885, the Keck School of Medicine of USC is among the nation's leaders in innovative patient care, scientific discovery, education, and community service. It is part of Keck Medicine of USC, the University of Southern California's medical enterprise, one of only two university-owned academic medical centers in the Los Angeles area. This includes the Keck Medical Center of USC, composed of the Keck Hospital of USC and the USC Norris Cancer Hospital. The two world-class, USC-owned hospitals are staffed by more than 500 physicians who are faculty at the Keck School. The school today has more than 1,500 full-time faculty members and voluntary faculty of more than 2,400 physicians. These faculty direct the education of approximately 700 medical students and 1,000 students pursuing graduate and post-graduate degrees. The school trains more than 900 resident physicians in more than 50 specialty or subspecialty programs and is the largest educator of physicians practicing in Southern California. Together, the school's faculty and residents serve more than 1.5 million patients each year at Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital, as well as USC-affiliated hospitals Children's Hospital Los Angeles and Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center. Keck School faculty also conduct research and teach at several research centers and institutes, including the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine at USC, the USC Cardiovascular Thoracic Institute, the USC Eye Institute and the USC Institute of Urology.