July 12, 2006

CONTACT: Rick Cushman
(215) 349-5659
rick.cushman@uphs.upenn.edu


Penn Researcher Wins Prestigious Ho-Am Prize
Pioneering the New Field of Osteoimmunology

(Philadelphia, PA) – Yongwon Choi, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, has been awarded Korea’s 2006 Ho-Am Prize in Medicine. The award recognizes scholars and researchers who make outstanding achievements by international standards while encouraging future activities of even higher levels and who also present exemplary models for the academic community.

Established in 1990 by Kun-Hee Lee, Chairman of the Samsung Corporation, the award is presented in the five areas of Science, Engineering, Medicine, the Arts, and Community Service. The prizes in all categories are awarded to people of Korean ethic origin except in Community Service, where they can be awarded to foreigners who have made outstanding contributions to Korea and/or Koreans. The prize itself consists of a certificate, a gold medal and a cash award.

“It is very exciting -- this is the most prestigious award to Koreans,” said Choi. “It is an honor to have my work recognized by my home country.”

Although the award is given for a body of work, Dr. Choi’s recent groundbreaking research in the new and growing field of osteoimmunology set him apart. Osteoimmunology is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the interaction between the skeletal system and the immune system.

In 1997, Choi discovered a protein, cytokine, since renamed TRANCE (or RANKL), which mediates communication between cells. Following on that discovery, Choi examined the physiological roles of TRANCE in the immune system and bone. This led to another first, the discovery of the OSCAR receptor in osteoclasts—the multinucleate cells in developing bone. These two findings made it possible to understand the differentiation and activation within osteoclasts and since led to potential treatments for such maladies as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, Paget’s disease, periodontitis and bone cancer.

Choi continues building on his research. He developed a new theory regarding the regulation of bone formation by TRANCE, which is also produced in immune cells. This theory gave rise to the new discipline of osteoimmunology, in which Choi is the leading authority.

“I hope that my work translates from the bench to the bedside,” Choi said. “Everyone is getting old, and in 2004, the U.S. surgeon general reported by the year 2020, half of American population over age 50 will live with fracture risk, meaning that for 30-40 years they are going to have to worry about their bone health. It is this quality of life issue that we need to work on.”

Choi, who is originally from Seoul, South Korea, has been at the University of Pennsylvania since 2001. Previous to coming to Penn, Choi worked at the Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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This release is available online at http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/jul06/hoamprz.htm