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Cancer Research

Prof. Seock-Ah Im

Cancer Research Institute, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea

Prof. Seock-Ah Im focuses on translation research of breast cancer. Unlike in western countries, in Korea the highest prevalence of breast cancer is in premenopausal women. Prof. Im is focusing on research and clinical trials on likely therapeutic candidates in this population and recently authored a paper in Nature presenting promising results.

Cancer research is important to me because …

My beloved grandfather died of sepsis caused by biliary tree obstruction due to cancer three months after diagnosis – just after I learned anatomy and biochemistry. During my residency in the 1990s limited numbers of cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents were available. I experienced many cancer patients dying without having fulfilled their last wishes. Although they struggled with many adverse events, I thought they should have more time with their families to maintain their quality of life. It was very impressive to see the dramatic response of targeted agent STI-571 (imatinib) in chronic myeloid leukemia patients who were refractory to the standard of care in 1999. I thought we could develop targeted agents in solid tumors which have a heterogeneous cell population compared with hematologic malignancies. In addition, bench-to-bedside translational research is more applicable for cancer patients who have a limited life expectancy and I am eager to develop more effective strategies for them to earn their time to complete their bucket lists. 

The person who inspired me most in my career was …

I have three mentors who shaped my path during my academic life and could not say who is most important. My Ph.D. thesis advisor, Professor Soon-Nam Lee, aroused my interest in oncology, especially in breast cancer. When I was a chief resident, I experienced prominent prolongation of life with paclitaxel in refractory breast cancer. Professor Alfred W.K. Yung at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center guided my translational research work to bring targeted therapy to the clinic. Prof. Yung-Jue Bang was an inspiring mentor for practice-changing clinical trials and connected research to the patient’s real life. 

If I were starting my career again …

I would put in more effort to learn effective English communication skills and English grammar to better describe my experimental work in English. My main motivation has always been the prolongation of my patients’ lives with more convenient targeted agents. I used targeted agents including HER-2 directed agents or DNA damage repair inhibitors including PARP inhibitors, in vitro and in vivo experiments, and subsequently designed clinical trials for breast or gastric cancer patients. To perform these "Bench to the clinic studies", it is very important to communicate with a global research team and I feel that my English skills are not proficient enough to explain my ideas appropriately. 

The happiest moment in my scientific career was …

I was honored to receive the Hamchun Creative Award for publishing Monaleeza-7 study overall survival data in the New England Journal of Medicine. I was especially happy to be named a creative award winner at Seoul National University for a study done with a global collaboration that could greatly change the quality of life for premenopausal women. In this dedicated trial for premenopausal metastatic breast cancer, we were able to show adding CDK4/6 inhibitor to endocrine treatment prolonged overall survival. The results were promising and were met with much excitement given that it was the first to show a significant prolongation of patient survival in Phase III Clinical Trials in 20 years.

The most important publication in cancer research is …

I feel there is not a single outstanding publication as the field of translational cancer research is a constantly evolving area. Discovering RAD51C deficiency as a sensitive predictive marker for PAPR inhibitor Olaparib, finding ATM deficiency as a sensitive marker for ATR inhibitor, and finding potent antitumor activity of pan-HER inhibitor for HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer which had failed existing HER-2 directed therapy were all ground-breaking discoveries. We are continuing to understand the potential biological mechanism of combining targeted agents including DNA damage inhibitors with immune-check inhibitors using paired biopsy specimens.

The most important research breakthrough is …

Most important for our laboratory is collaborative manpower. Dr. Ahrum Min joined as research professor in our laboratory for translational research and Dr. Kyung-Hun Lee joined as a medical oncologist in our team for the breakthrough translational research including clinical trials.

Synergistic collaborative work between basic researchers and clinicians opens the door for so many insights with such a big impact for patient management. We are all fascinated by the outcome and there is still more to come.

The most important advancement in cancer research that must happen in the next five years …

When we design a paired-biopsy clinical trial including translational research using genomic, transcriptomic and pharmacodynamic biomarkers, the limited amount of tissues for further processing is challenging. In the near future, it might be easier if we have a platform to use blood to monitor pharmacodynamic effects caused by targeted agents. 

How societies should change over the next 10 years to help control and prevent cancer …

Remarkably, exciting results have come from high technologies; however, there were limited funding sources for academic researchers. Research funding from the government and society might help to facilitate academic research. Each global pharmaceutical company develops several agents in the same class separately, competitively. We must build a more comprehensive network to facilitate academia, global pharmaceutical company and the biotechnology industry to run together.
“We must build a more comprehensive network to facilitate academia, global pharmaceutical company and the biotechnology industry to run together.”
Prof. Seock-Ah Im

I would recommend to young scientists …

Focus on the research topic that you choose, try to maximize your ability, look around your scientific environment, communicate with your colleagues, and have an optimistic attitude for the future work.

I want to be remembered for …

Being able to connect translational research at the cancer research institute and patients in the cancer hospital, being creative and collaborative. Creating a practice-changing treatment for young breast cancer patients. 


Prof. Seock-Ah Im

Prof. Seock-Ah Im is a professor at the Department of Internal Medicine, Cancer Research Institute, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea. She is focused on the development of tailored therapies thorugh translational research and clinical trials. Her specialities include gastric cancer and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) as well as breast cancer. Prof. Im gained her M.D, PhD and studied at the EWHA Womans University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.

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Thank you!

On behalf of Prof. Seock-Ah Im, QIAGEN has donated 500 euros to the DKMS (an organization that arranges stem cell donation in Germany and internationally) to support them in their fight against blood cancer.

For more information, or to register as a potential donor, visit