Member Spotlights

Jihwan Song square

Jihwan Song, D Phil

Mar 3, 2021

Hometown: Busan, Korea
Current residence: Seoul, Korea
Graduate degree: D Phil
Current position: Professor, Department of Biomedical Science, CHA University, Korea President, Korean Society for Stem Cell Research (KSSCR) Director, Global Alliance for iPSC Therapies (GAiT) Founder & CEO, iPS Bio, Inc.

What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?

The current focus of my research is developing stem cell therapies for intractable neurological and neurodegenerative diseases, such as stroke, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases using GMP-grade neural cells differentiated from HLA-homozygous iPSC lines that my group has established recently. I am also interested in utilizing patient-specific iPSC lines for disease modeling and drug discovery in Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases. Finding new possibilities for clinical application from our research and discovering new drugs are the most rewarding aspects of my work.  

What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

I was trained as a developmental biologist and studied the role of FGFs during early Xenopus development under the supervision of Prof. Jonathan Slack at Oxford University, UK for my PhD. Afterwards, I became interested in the role of activin receptor signaling during mouse development in Prof. En Li’s lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, USA. During this period, I gained practical knowledge on mouse knockouts and embryonic stem cell culture, which provided the basis for my later work on pluripotent stem cells when I returned to Korea in 2000.

What is the most exciting aspect of your work?

I am excited about the possibility that the 10 HLA-homozygous induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines that we have recently established from frozen cord blood samples can cover more than 40% of the Korean population, and be used to treat diverse Asian populations. My primary goal is to use our HLA-homozygous iPSC lines to treat HLA-matched Huntington’s disease (HD) patients. Although we are still at an early stage, we aim to move on to clinical trials in the next few years. It will be highly rewarding and meaningful for us if our treatment can provide hope to HD patients and their families. We are also thrilled that peripheral blood cells from Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients can mimic several important pathological features of the disease when they are converted to iPSCs, as they may potentially serve as useful platforms for candidate drug screening. So far, we have generated more than 50 iPSC lines from a diverse group of AD patients, and are in the process of performing high-content screening using FDA-approved drugs to identify potential candidate drugs.

What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?

Having a thorough understanding of the fundamental concepts in developmental biology is instrumental to understand more complicated issues in stem cell research. The more one understands specific developmental pathways and related diseases, the more one is equipped with better strategies to tackle problems. Being informed on the latest publications of major stem cell journals and stem cell news will provide one with useful insights into the current landscape and future directions in stem cell research and clinical trials.

Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?

I am particularly inspired by the great enthusiasm of Dr Kwang Yul Cha, the founder of CHA University and CHA Medical Group. His infinite passion and support for stem cell research has driven CHA University to become a leader in stem cell research in Korea. I am also indebted to Prof. Olle Lindvall at Lund University, Sweden and Prof. Roger Barker at Cambridge University, UK, who have guided me on the path of stem cell clinical trials.

How do you spend your free time?

As PI of ~20 lab members, CEO of iPS Bio, a newly founded start-up company, and as the president of Korean Society for Stem Cell Research (KSSCR), I can hardly find free time recently. However, I like to spend my free time strolling with close colleagues, eating exotic foods, watching TV dramas, and reading books and newspapers. I also enjoy traveling abroad but unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this seems impossible in the near future.

What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

Apart from science, I am very interested in history and Chinese characters. For this reason, my Japanese and Chinese friends are often surprised to see my good command of Chinese characters and calligraphy. I also have a relatively good knowledge of foreign languages and foods.

What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?

I have been a member of ISSCR since the society started in 2002. Undoubtedly, I have benefitted a lot by attending the annual meetings every year and international symposiums from time to time. In particular, as a local organizer of the 2019 ISSCR/KSSCR International Symposium held in Seoul, I had the great opportunity to work together with ISSCR very closely. This unique experience will be very useful for me as the president of KSSCR this year. Currently, I am participating on the ISSCR International Committee, Clinical Translation Committee, and the Task Force on Asian Engagement. As the president of KSSCR, I will make my best efforts to establish more fruitful relationships between ISSCR and KSSCR, and more broadly with Asian stem cell scientists.


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Careers in Industry

Career talks featured at ISSCR’s VISION2030 event, focused on opportunities for a decade ahead. 

BlueRock Therapeutics | Career Talks

Panel discussion with Timsi Rao, Scientist III, Genome Sciences and Stephany Sakharny, Senior Human Resources Manager of BlueRock Therapeutics.

STEMCELL Technologies | Career Talks

Panel discussion with Christine Genge, Manager, Recruitment and Nina Quiskamp, Scientist of STEMCELL Technologies.

ElevateBio | Career Talks

Panel discussion with Cherylene Plewa, PhD, VP, Cellular Engineering and Austin Thiel, PhD, Director Stem Cell Biology of ElevateBio.

ISSCR 2020 Virtual Videos

Junior Investigator Career Panel

Finding Your Fit: Defining Goals and Taking Action to Achieve Long-term

Moderator: Evan Graham, ISSCR Junior Investigators Committee, CELLINK
Panelists: Heather Duffy, Creative Innovation Consulting, Steve Kattman, Sana Biotechnology, Danijela Menicanin, University of Adelaide, and Itedale Namro Redwan, CELLINK.

Despite how it can sometimes appear, the path to a satisfying career is rarely straightforward. Are you currently asking yourself “How do I decide on a career path?” If so, join us for an in-depth panel discussion about how individual definitions for success and failure can help you identify your goals, adjust to setbacks, determine when it’s time to make a change, and what steps to take now to achieve your long-term goals. This casual event hosted by the Junior Investigator Committee is intended to foster frank conversation about how to assess career decisions early on.

Early Career Group Leader Panel

Re-Defining the Success of Your Lab in Changing Times: Productivity, Motivation and Enrichment

Moderator: Josh Currie, Co-chair, ISSCR Junior Investigators Committee, Wake Forest University
Panelists: Valentina Greco, Yale Stem Cell Center, Yale Medical School, Konrad Hochedlinger, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Joanna Wysocka, Stanford University.

Even prior to lab shutdowns, you might have often been awake at night feeling anxious about the success of your trainees and your projects. With bench research and much of science at a standstill, how can PIs regain perspective and purpose to re-define a thriving lab? This event is organized for early career PIs to learn tools and tips from more senior ISSCR scientists about how to get the most out of your lab. We will address topics such as setting up a strong lab culture from the beginning, enriching the lab experience to make your team the most productive, and recruiting the best people to improve motivation and promote strong research. Additionally, this event is meant to foster conversation about how to support, motivate, and train lab members under these exceptional circumstances. Come join us to learn, share, and discuss different recipes for a successful lab.