Kim receives New Faculty Research Award

Published on January 11, 2023

Portrait of Prof. Jong Sung Kim of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

Jong Sung Kim, associate professor of occupational and environmental health, has been named the recipient of the College of Public Health New Faculty Research Award. This award assists newly appointed or junior faculty in collecting preliminary data or pilot studies leading to larger projects. The awards are based on scientific merit, including originality; relevance to the UI public health mission; and likelihood of subsequent extramural funding.

Kim is also on the faculty of Iowa’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Human Toxicology. The New Faculty Research Award will fund Kim’s project titled “The ACE Project for Iowans (Toenails for Arsenic Cancer Risk Evaluation, Screening, and Prevention of Prostate Cancer in Iowa).” The project period runs Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2023.

Exposure to arsenic via contaminated drinking water has been implicated as a risk factor for several types of cancer, including skin, bladder, kidney, prostate, lung, breast, and cervical cancer. Kim’s team seeks to reduce the burden of high-fatality cancers caused by arsenic exposure in Iowa using a multi-pronged health innovation approach. The project spans the full development spectrum from analytical toxicology to data analytics and ultimately to population health and pre-clinical testing using toenail samples, a noninvasive environmental biomarker.

The interdisciplinary research team will recruit participants from five different risk groups (very low, low, intermediate, high, very high) of prostate cancer via the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The team will analyze toenail samples to determine the relationship between arsenic speciation and metallome profiles and risk of prostate cancer. Healthy individuals will be included as a reference.

By identifying how potential risk factors and preventative factors interact, not only with arsenic exposure, but with individuals’ arsenic speciation/metabolism and body burden, this research has the potential to significantly advance understanding of arsenic carcinogenicity, and thus develop and inform targeted population-level prevention strategies. This project opens a new area for cancer risk assessment, impacting the long-term health of subpopulations across Iowa that consume well water.

At the completion of this pilot project, the team also expects to provide evidence that the project’s cancer screening tool will have broad reach, as community-based health care professionals can perform non-clinical, first-line prediction of cancer risk to enable continued patient monitoring and treatment by specialists. This approach can be predictive, preventive, and promotive in cancer risk assessment of arsenic and make positive changes for Iowans through evidence-based health innovation and communication.