Recent graduate receives Chancellor’s Service Award & Dean’s Prize

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Min Woo Kim Photo small

Min Woo (Mitchell) Kim (’16) (Courey group) received the awards for his service to the community and his undergraduate research work.

Kim recently graduated with summa cum laude honors with his Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Master of Science in Biochemistry, Molecular, and Structural Biology through the Departmental Scholars program. For the past two years Kim has been conducting research in the Prof. Albert Courey’s lab in the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Employing a combination of biochemical and genetic approaches, he examined mechanisms entailing Groucho, a transcriptional corepressor, vital for modulation of target gene specificity during embryogenesis and also analyzed the impacts of post-translational modifications on cellular signaling pathways. He will further his research this summer as a research professional/associate at Stanford under the direction of Prof. Alice Ting. “With that experience under my belt I hope to pursue M.D./Ph.D. programs in about two or three years-time,” Kim said.

“Throughout my undergraduate and graduate career at UCLA, I have defined my approach to research through interdisciplinary learning borrowing from the underlying principles of both the sciences and the humanities to broaden my perspective,” Kim explained. “Taking advantage of the plethora of opportunities available at UCLA, I performed research in several different departments ranging from religious studies to bioengineering. These experiences not only improved my ability to communicate across disciplines, but also allowed me to effectively extract and synthesize information from diverse disciplines on which to base my primary research project.”

“It is through my involvement with research, volunteer organizations, and hospitals that I have observed and exposed myself to numerous opportunities from which to learn. In particular, through my experiences, I grasped the versatility of research not only benchside in a lab, but also alongside my patients’ bedside, providing me with unique ways to serve my community,” Kim said. “Thus, it is through research that I eventually hope to translate my findings into salutary medical practices that benefit human health. By applying my strength – my creativity – I desire to introduce novel ideas into biochemistry by continuing my research with signaling systems at Stanford University. It’s not just performing biochemistry, but rather performing innovative biochemistry that appeals to me.”

As a laboratory technician for Prof. Roel Ophoff’s lab in the UCLA Human Genetics department, focused on defining the genetic architecture for varying neuropsychiatric disorders, Kim processed and analyzed human blood samples for patients affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and bipolar disorder. Moreover, he utilized biophysical markers to detect cellular subpopulations to advance cancer diagnostics through deformability cytometry, whereby the degree of deformability differentiated between wild type and malignant cells. Agglomerating his experiences from varying research disciplines to supplement by biochemical background, he examined the effects of the small ubiquitin-related modifier (SUMO) protein on the canonical Ras/MAPK pathway in Schneider 2 cells, a


macrophage-like cell line, for his Master’s Thesis – discovering the impacts of SUMO conjugation in stimulating the dephosphorylation of a specific phosphoserine residue on Raf thereby promoting the localization of Raf to the plasma membrane. A third of all human cancers are driven by misregulations in the Ras/MAPK signaling pathway and previous research has underlined SUMO’s role in responding to cellular stress, maintaining homeostasis. With our current model, we perceive that SUMO potentiates Ras/MAPK signaling by relieving 14-3-3 zeta mediated repression of Raf and/or by facilitating the activation of the PP2A complex stimulating the dephosphorylation at serine 346 to foster the activation of Raf. Thus, by defining a role for SUMO in the Ras/MAPK signaling pathway, his research opened another avenue for cancer therapeutics to explore in order to efficaciously tackle misregulation in the Ras/MAPK signaling pathway to advance the delivery of care to cancer patients. 

Moreover, in completing his own research project analyzing the influence of post-translational modifications on signaling pathways, he presented his findings to fellow colleagues and was even provided with the opportunity to further disseminate his results to world-renowned researchers at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “Beyond self-edification,” Kim said, “research helped to fulfill my lifelong goal to contribute to humanity through scientific service, collaboration, and the dissemination of research findings throughout the globe. By sharing my findings, I recognized the importance of being conscious of my audience speaking within and to different disciplines as well as the significance of collaboration and criticism in broadening how I further pursue my academic career.”

“Beyond research, having learned Spanish and French at UCLA, in addition to my command of both English and Korean, has enabled me to teach UCLA employees English and to provide my best service to patients as a volunteer at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center,” Kim said. “ Developing effective lesson plans to facilitate the understanding of English for non-native speakers, through Project “Students for Progress in Employee Language Learning” (SPELL), I enhanced my learners’ ability to assimilate into his or her working environment and to communicate effectively with their colleagues. My service to several UCLA employees initiated a chain of transmission, whereby learners would reach out to other employees and extend our one-to-one tutoring sessions to the greater community. As a Clinical Care Extender, intercommunication, of course, served a vital purpose at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for it converted a tense environment into one of comfort. Mixing formal speech with idiomatic expressions to ease the atmosphere, I tightened my bond with patients via either our shared culture or cultural exchange. My experience emphasized for me the importance of forging connections when attempting to serve, and it increased my capacity to communicate effectively with the diverse population in the promotion of intercultural solidarity.”