Student Success Story

For the patients’ ‘better life’

Danbee Kang, Assistant Professor, SAIHST

“A data is accumulated words from patients. With this precious data, I wanted to find something more meaningful and help them return to their original life or even ‘better life’ based on it.”

Prof. Kang started her combined Master’s and Ph.D. program at the Department of Health Sciences and Technology, Samsung Advanced Institute for Health Sciences and Technology (SAIHST) in 2012 and received the doctorate degree in 2017 (Advisor: Juhee Cho). From 2018 to February 2021, she worked as a research professor at SAIHST and was appointed as an assistant professor at the Department of Clinical Research Design and Evaluation, SAIHST. It is the first case in which a graduate of the SAIHST being appointed as a full-time faculty of the SAIHST.

Prof. Kang said that she was lucky and is lucky to keep working with her advisor. She said she would grow little by little every day while studying with various professors, faculty, and researchers at Samsung Medical Center where she spent all of her 20s.

The Department of Clinical Research Design and Evaluation, SAIHST provides professional education on clinical research design evaluation methods for the first time in Korea and teaches theories and technologies necessary for clinical trials and large-scale cohort design and performance, using hospitals, communities, and national big data, genetic data, etc. The Department of Clinical Research Design and Evaluation includes curriculum essential for conducting clinical research using various big data. Especially, the clinical research design foundation and advanced courses jointly developed with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are expected to help medical staffs at the clinical site and pharmaceutical companies interested in big data research.

Prof. Kang is in charge of clinical research methodology and medical statistics. Based on the various data listed earlier, professors from Samsung Medical Center, SKKU School of Medicine, the Department of Digital Health at SAIHST, the Department of Medical Device Management and Research, and the Department of Health Sciences and Technology are working together to design research and find an analytical method for each data. Based on this experience, she is teaching related subjects.

Prof. Kang is called an ‘expert of national big data research.’ A ‘national’ big data research is a field of research that utilizes public health big data and various real-world data to compensate for ethical issues, and inefficiency caused by delay in time or cost-consuming. It also presents the actual phenomenon of the medical process as well as applies to the development of innovative therapeutic products.

She has carried out various studies related to cancer treatment since her Ph.D. program. Especially, her study for the breath cancer patients is impressive. During the treatment, breast cancer patients have changes in their appearance. Hair loss or skin changes caused by anti-cancer treatment often remain a difficult memory for patients even long after the treatment is over. Changes in appearance due to the cancer treatment have a significant impact on patients’ social life, confidence, etc. In Korea, people not only are interested in appearance but also have a lot of prejudice against cancer. So, there are many patients who are stressed by changes in their appearance caused by cancer treatment. However, since there is no objective data on how much skin factors changed due to the chemotherapy or when the recovery would take place, there is a limitation in providing appropriate interventions.

Through a joint research, professors and researchers from SKKU’s School of Medicine, Samsung Medical Center’s Cancer Education Center, Breast Cancer Center, Hematologic Malignancy Center, Dermatology and Amorepacific, conducted a prospective cohort study in breast cancer patients to quantitatively measure skin and hair changes before, during, and after chemotherapy. Based on the result, they discovered moisturizing cream customized for chemotherapy in collaboration with Amorepacific and currently conducting a clinical evaluation of Scalp Cooling, a medical device that prevents hair loss due to the chemotherapy along with the Paxman in the U.K. In addition, they have conducted a study on mediating permanent hair loss due to the chemotherapy with Legacy Healthcare, a new drug developer in Swiss.

Prof. Kang said, “Studying on meditating skin/hair changes in cancer patients cannot be done by one department. Skin and hair changes should be observed while considering the specificity of cancer treatment. Also, there are many things to consider to provide products that can be applied to them. In fact, the study was invited to a public hearing on the 3rd Basic Plan for Convergence Research and Development and was introduced as a convergence study. In addition, I won the Excellent Award at the World Breast Cancer Conference and the Excellent Researcher Award at the Society of Investigative Dermatology (SID), the most renowned society in the field of dermatology with this research. I think it was more meaningful because it was used not only for academic achievements but also for developing grounded educational materials and products that could help the actual patients.”

SAIHST is located inside of Samsung Medical Center, and research and educational activities are conducted inside Samsung Medical Center. Due to these environmental features, research topics emerge from difficulties in clinical sites, and a virtuous cycle occurs in which research results are applied back to clinical practice. It is a great advantage that researchers can consider research that can be used in clinical sites rather than research for papers or achievements as they see how they change clinical sites and affect patients’ lives. It was a good experience for Prof. Kang that she was able to understand the needs of clinical sites while working with top medical staffs at Samsung Medical Center and SKKU and find solutions in collaboration with various convergence research institutes during the research process.

Prof. Kang’s laboratory is conducting research to establish an algorithm for evaluating patient symptoms and functions tailored to Korean patients. Also, they are working on developing a model that can help making decisions in the medical sites using machine learning technology through the precise data and clinical data from patients. Moreover, they are carrying out a research on the development of digital treatments to predict real problems before they occur and naturally link them to multi-dimensional digital mediation to prevent them.

Prof. Kang won the international academic award for 8 times, was nominated for the “Hanbitsa” in the Biological Research Information Center (BRIC) for 6 times, and published more than 87 papers in SCI-level journals.

We asked her where the important values and driving force come from as a researcher throughout her years of research and career. “I don’t think it would have been possible without collaboration with researchers at the clinical sites. Based on our collaboration in our respective fields of expertise, we gathered our knowledge and considered the unknown areas together to find a new third way. I think the most important value is that the people who study in this process share a common goal. The process of thinking and researching together with a good purpose to create a basis for helping clinical sites, not for obtaining good papers or research fund, is very enjoyable. Working with a good team and moving toward good goals are important value and driving force as a researcher,” Prof. Kang answered.

When we asked her aspiration and she said, “My advisor said that professors are pioneers who always look for or discover new things. In fact, our lab is always looking for new concepts and new ways. Sometimes, it’s not recognized because it’s such a new concept. However, seeing the advisor moving forward without being complacent, I also wanted to become a clinical epidemiologist who repeatedly challenged and collaborated with various fields to discover new things. Based on these practical experiences, I want to be a professor who can teach practical learning, and not just deliver knowledge in books.”