Sun Woo Kang : His Research Hits Home

Normally a reserved and modest man, NKF researcher Sun Woo Kang's paternal pride overrides all shyness when the topic turns to his two boys. "They look just like me," he says of 9-year-old Seung-Oh Kang, and 4-year-old Minseong Kang. "Though they are really much more handsome than me!"

What keeps Kang working long hours in the laboratory at the Center for Human Genetics and Genomics, at the University of California at San Diego, is the fear that with his handsome genes, he also may have passed along a more lethal legacy to his sons: a precursor to kidney disease.

"My grandfather has had hypertension for 45 years," says the South Korean-born nephrologist and Ph.D researcher. My father has had diabetes and hypertension for 25 years, and had bypass surgery in 2002. When it was recently discovered that I had certain precursors for cardiovascular or kidney disease similar to my father, and my father's father, I became even more interested in human genetics as it relates to cardiovascular disease and kidney disease."

The irony is that Kang, whose research is funded with a National Kidney Foundation Fellowship, was passionate about his work long before it became entwined with his personal history. Now, however, there is an added urgency to his quest. He believes that testing blood samples and genomic DNA of patients with kidney failure or End Stage Renal Disease, recruited from dialysis units at three Southern California medical centers, will help him discover if any genetic factors exist when it comes to cardiovascular and kidney disease.

"Of people suffering from hypertension there is a small group that is genetically at a high risk of developing hypertensive kidney disease (HKD)," he says. "I'm here to find out why and to help them." That group, Kang adds, would get more intensive treatment, shown to reduce the onset of HKD. Those without the genetic markers won't have to undergo that level of treatment, which also carries serious side effects.

When not in the lab, Kang loves playing basketball with his boys at Carmel Valley Park. "I would very much like them to grow up strong," he says. "And healthy."