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Seok-Joon Kwon


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About Me

I was born in Seoul, South Korea, where I completed my graduate studies at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). My PhD research topics were biocatalysis and biotransformation (water activity control in lipase-catalyzed esterification in organic solvents). After getting Ph. D. degree, I worked in the field of biochemistry (enzyme purification and characterization) during my post doctoral program in South Korea. After completing the mandatory military research work in Korea, I, along with my family, moved to USA. I was accepted as a post doctoral researcher at University of Minnesota, where I studied in the field of metabolic pathway engineering and directed evolution, making me well-versed in the field of molecular biology. After finishing my project in Minnesota, I moved to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). At UPMC, I carried out research work in the field of cancer research (cell signal pathway during hypoxia). In addition, I became a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. After working in various research groups and in very varied research fields, I decided to join Prof. Jonathan Dordick’s group at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), NY. In here, I have applied my research capabilities to the multidisciplinary field of chemical biology, drug discovery, and nanotechnology.

Former Education

Ph. D. (1998. 2) Dept. of Biological Sciences, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), South Korea, Biocatalysis and Bioengineering (Prof. Joon Shick Rhee)

Dissertational title: Application of Pervaporation to Lipase-Catalyzed Esterification in Organic Solvent.

M. S. (1994. 2) Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Dept. of Biotechnology, South Korea, Biocatalysis and Biotransformations (Prof. Joon Shick Rhee)

Dissertational title: Enzymatic Synthesis of Mono-, or Diacylglycerol in Organic Solvent.

B. S. (1992. 2) Yonsei University, Dept. of Food Engineering, South Korea (Prof. Chul Soo Shin)


The goal of my work is to develop a new high-throughput approach to personalized and targeted cancer drug discovery. The expected outcome of this research is the identification of novel drug regimens, which include small molecules that are sufficiently diverse and that target multiple cellular pathways involved in cancer progression. The proposed program builds on the emerging knowledge that polketide (polyphenolic) compounds can have anticancer activity and are able to potentiate the action of known anticancer drugs by affecting critical cell signaling pathways, and on our technology for rapid enzymatic derivation of polyketide (polyphenol) derivatives. The other core component of this project is the biochip technology that we have developed for high-throughput screening of a large number of compounds (>1,000 assays per chip), including known anticancer drugs and natural and synthetically-derived polyketides. Through this screening we expect to identify polyketides and their analogs active against different tumor cells, alone or in combination with known drugs. We hypothesize that as a result of the combination of cell signaling pathway modulation by polyketides coupled with the cytotoxicity of current anticancer drugs, cell-specific potentiation by the polyketides will occur. This selectivity then provides the rationale for the development of targeted activity against patient-specific cancers. We expect to generate a multidimensional functional database that correlates binary small molecule combinations of anticancer drugs and potentiating polyketides (polyphenols) with representative cancer cell types and relevant cellular targets and signaling pathways (e.g., NF-kB, HER2, Akt, Wnt, HIF-1a and the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor (CKI) pathway). This multidisciplinary project is expected to lead to personalized cancer therapy. For example, patient-derived cancer cells can be tested in our system for sensitivity to different drugs or drug mixtures to identify optimal combinations and dosages that will be effective against the individual cancer subtype of the patient. To achieve our overarching goal of developing personalized cancer drug therapy, we will establish an integrated, microarray-based, high-throughput discovery platform consisting of chemical synthesis, biocatalysis, and cell- and pathway-based screening.


  1. Kim, M. I., Kwon, S. J., Dordick, J. S. (2008) In vitro precursor-directed synthesis of polyketide analogues with coenzyme a regeneration for the development of antiangiogenic agents. Org. Lett.11:3806-9
  2. Fernandes, T. G., Kwon, S. J., Lee, M. Y., Clark, D. S., Cabral, J. M. S., Dordick, J. S. (2008) On-Chip, Cell-Based Microarray Immunofluorescence assay for High-Throughput Analysis of Target Proteins. Anal. Chem. 80:6633-9.
  3. Kwon, S. J., Lee, M. Y., Ku, B., Sherman, D. H., Dordick, J. S. (2007) In vitro metabolic pathway engineering for natural product drug discovery. ACS Chem. Biol. 2:419-25
  4. Kwon, S. J., Jung, H. C., Pan, J. G. (2007) Transgalactosylation in a Water-Solvent Biphasic Reaction System with {beta}-Galactosidase Displayed on the Surface of Spores of Bacillus subtilis.Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 73:2251-2256
  5. DiTursi, M. K., Kwon, S. J., Dordick, J. S. (2006) Bioinformatics-driven, rational engineering of protein thermostability. Protein Eng. Des. Sel. 19:517-24
  6. Ku, B., Cha, J., Srivasan, A., Kwon, S. J., Jeong, J. C., Sherman, D. H., Dordick, J. S. (2006)Chip-based polyketide biosynthesis and functionalization. Biotechnol. Prog. 22:1202
  7. Jung, H. C., Kwon, S. J., Pan, J. G. (2006) Display of a thermostable lipase on the surface of a solvent-resistant bacterium, Pseudomonas putida GM730, and its applications for whole-cell biocatalysis. BMC Biotechnol. 6:23
  8. Kwon, S. J., Song, J. J., Lee, Y. J., (2005) Signal Pathway of HIF-1 Phosphorylation And Its Interaction With pVHL in MiaPaCa-2 Pancreatic Cancer Cells During Ischemia. Clin. Cancer Res. 11: 7607-7613
  9. Kwon, S. J., Lee, Y. J. (2005) Effect of Low Glutamine/Glucose on Hypoxia-induced Elevation of HIF-1alpha in Human Pancreatic Cancer MiaPaCa-2 and Human Prostatic Cancer DU-145 Cells. Clin. Cancer Res. 11: 4694-4700
  10. Lee, Y. J., Moon, M. S., Kwon, S. J., Rhee, J. G. (2005) Hypoxia and low glucose differentially augments TRAIL-induced apoptotic death. Mol. Cell. Biochem. 270: 89-97
  11. Kwon, S. J., Petri, R., de Boer, A. L., Schmidt-Dannert, C. (2004) A high-throughput screen for porphyrin metal chelatase: Application to the directed evolution of ferrochelatase for metalloporphyrin biosynthesis. ChemBioChem 5: 1069-1074
  12. Baek, D. H., Song, J. J., Kwon, S. J., Park, C., Jung, C. M., Sung, M. H. (2004) Characteristics of a New Enantioselective Thermostable Dipeptidase from Brevibacillus borstelensis BCS-1 and Its Application to Synthesis of a D-Amino-Acid-Containing Dipeptide. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 70: 1570-1575
  13. Kwon, S. J., de Boer, A. L., Petri, R., Schmidt-Dannert, C. (2003) High-level production of porphyrins in metabolically engineered Escherichia coli: systematic extension of a pathway assembled from overexpressed genes involved in heme biosynthesis. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 69: 4875-4883
  14. Baek, D. H., Kwon, S. J., Hong, S. P., Kwak, M. S., Lee, M. H. Song, J. J., Lee, S. G., Yoon, K. H., Sung, M. H. (2003) Characterization of a thermostable D-stereospecific alanine amidase from Brevibacillus borstelensis BCS-1. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 69: 980-986


  • Oh-Woon Scholarship (KOLON Inc.) in Korea 1990-1992
  • The American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) Award in U.S.A., 1996/97
  • Research Fellowship Award from Korea Science and Engineering Foundation (KOSEF) in Korea 1998/1999