• John Yongjoon Choi, MD

    2021 John Merrill Grant in Transplantation
    John Yongjoon Choi, MD

    John Yongjoon Choi, MD

    2021 John Merrill Grant in Transplantation

    Institution: Brigham and Women's Hospital

    Project Title: Harnessing Regulatory CD8+ T cells to Suppress Antibody-Mediated Rejection


    How would you sum up your research in one sentence?

    We are investigating on novel signal pathways to effectively mobilize Qa-1(HLA-E in human)-restricted regulatory CD8 T cells (CD8 Treg) and promote transplant tolerance. 

    Provide a brief overview of the research you will conduct with help from the grant.

    We recently engineered a superagonist that highly mobilizes CD8 Treg. We will test if vaccinating hosts with our superagonist can prevent and treat antibody-mediated rejection. We have also found these CD8 Treg upregulate unique sets of co-signaling receptors. Along with the superagonist, we will test if targeting such co-signaling receptors can specifically enhance the function of CD8 Treg in the mouse transplant model. 

    What inspired you to focus your research in this area?

    During my medical training, I have managed many kidney transplant recipients who suffered from allograft injury from various reasons. Antibody-mediated rejection is a particularly challenging pathology for both patients and physicians, as we lack effective therapy. Qa-1-restricted CD8 Tregs are known for controlling humoral immunity, and I wanted to study this special cell in the context of transplantation to bring novel therapeutics to the bedside. 

    What impact do you hope your research will have on patients?

    I hope our project can serve as a steppingstone to provide a highly efficacious antigen-specific immune tolerance and minimize unwanted consequence of non-specific overimmunosuppression.  

    What are your career goals at the end of the grant period? Five years out? Ten years out?

    My research goal is to direct a program that focuses on developing an individualized disease and antigen-specific tolerance strategy. To achieve this goal, I plan to continue defining more regulatory immune subsets at the higher-resolution, especially focusing on how to manipulate these cells in the antigen-specific manner. Ultimately, I want to bring these bench findings to the bedside to improve how we manage our patients. 

    What has surprised you most about your career?

    The support from mentors, institution and family that made this journey possible. 

    In one sentence, please describe the importance of having grant funding available through KidneyCure.

    KidneyCure is very important in terms of the message that it delivers: It announces what are important questions unanswered in the field, and the society's commitment to support science and to advocate patients. 

    What advice would you give to others to encourage them to apply for this grant funding?

    Ask recent awardees for tips and templates to complete the grant application, especially if this is your first submission. You may not be successful in the first trial, but re-submission is much easier, and your application will become much powerful after addressing reviewers' constructive comments. 

    Something you may not know about me is…

    As an undergraduate, immunology was one of my least favorite subjects in biology. I felt it was too complex. Now I am in love with immunology; just found it is waaaaay more complex than I could ever imagine. 

    In my free time I like to…

    Free time… mmm that sounds really good!


    Follow on Twitter: @jyc2116