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A Q&A with Dr. Ki Wook Kim, an ENDIA Early-Mid Career Science Accelerator Award Recipient

Dr. Ki Wook Kim
Dr. Ki Wook Kim

Helmsley- and JDRF-supported InvestigatorUNSW Medicine & Health, School of Women’s and Children’s Health

In July 2021, the Helmsley Charitable Trust and JDRF Australia announced the recipients of the Environmental Determinants of Islet Autoimmunity (ENDIA) Early-Mid Career Science Accelerator Awards. Dr. Ki Wook Kim was one of three exceptional researchers to receive funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust and JDRF Australia to support his new project.

Along with his fellow award recipients, he will use samples from the ENDIA study, a leading type 1 diabetes (T1D)study that has collected samples from early pregnancy to childhood, to investigate environmental factors that influence disease pathogenesis and possibly ways to prevent onset.

This is the first of three interviews we conducted with the award recipients to find out more about their studies, the impact each hopes to have on the field of T1D, and their experience collaborating with Helmsley and JDRF Australia.

Tell us about your research and what you’re focusing on.

Dr. Ki Wook Kim: To determine which respiratory viruses may act as triggers for Type 1 diabetes (T1D) my research aims to characterize longitudinal changes in the population of all respiratory viruses (i.e. the “respiratory virome”) in children at risk of developing T1D and their mothers during pregnancy.

What outcome are you hoping for from your research and how may it help prevent T1D?

Dr. Ki Wook Kim: As the lead postdoctoral scientist for the Virology team in the ENDIA study, my research aims to determine whether early infection by viruses during pregnancy and infancy increases the risk of developing T1D. By characterising the viruses most significantly associated with the development of T1D, our ultimate goal is to inform and facilitate the development of antiviral vaccines to prevent T1D, as well as antiviral therapeutics to potentially treat people already living with the disease.

What is special about the ENDIA study? Why does it offer hope in the fight to prevent T1D?

Dr. Ki Wook Kim: The uniqueness of ENDIA is that participants have been recruited and followed from pregnancy until the development of islet autoimmunity (pre-diabetes phase) and or T1D. This early commencement in follow-up enables investigation of key environmental determinants and triggers that may occur very early after birth or in utero.

What has it been like collaborating on a project like this with JDRF Australia, Helmsley, and your fellow researchers in Australia?

Dr. Ki Wook Kim: Collaboration with Helmsley, JDRF Australia and fellow researchers across Australia within and outside of the ENDIA study has been fantastic. It is great to have funders that value and encourage open collaboration across diverse disciplines and research institutions. The ENDIA study and all of the theme investigations within ENDIA are true collaborative efforts.

Read our Q&As with the other two recipients of this award, Dr. Emma Hamilton-Williams and Dr. Megan Penno, here and here.