By Wendy Sarubbi | January 11, 2016 3:21 pm

At first glance, third-year medical student Jae Kim’s research sounds like something out of a high-tech sci-fi movie. Imagine gout patients checking their uric acid levels with a hand-held device that shines light through the palm of their hands. No blood drawing, no hospital visits. That is Kim’s vision for the future of preventative medicine, fueled by his own family member’s struggle with gout

Kim’s research began over two years ago with his Focused Inquiry and Research Experience (FIRE) project, which requires all College of Medicine students to do a two-year research project. After seeing his own brother-in-law struggle with gout, a painful form of arthritis triggered by high uric acid in the blood, Kim used his master’s degree in electrical engineering to create a machine that detects uric acid levels at home — without drawing blood.

“Every molecule has its own properties that when it interacts with light energy, it reacts differently,” he said, explaining the concept. “I’m intentionally using those light characteristics to work backwards and detect how much of the molecule is in the blood.”

Kim’s research has evolved from a theory to an actual device. He has been recognized by the Florida Medical Association, and was named best research in the Surgery/Biomedical Category at the 13th annual AMA Research Symposium in Atlanta in November. “Research is like an onion where you peel back one layer, and then there’s always another problem to solve,” he said. “It was great to come out with some convincing results that I can now share with others.”

Kim hopes to one day bring his research into a clinical trial, and help improve the quality of life of people with gout. “Patients who suffer from gout—that is excruciating pain,” he said of his brother-in-law’s experience, and that of patients he has seen in hospital rotations. “If I can help them prevent or alleviate that pain, it is a big plus in my book.”

Kim envisions a day where patients will be able to check the uric acid in their blood from home, and make proper dietary changes to prevent a painful gout attack — much like how diabetic patients check their blood sugar levels to stay healthy. He says the technology in his device is only the beginning and that light could be used to diagnose virtually anything in the blood.

Kim reiterated that he had a long list of colleagues and teachers to thank for the honor, including Assistant Professor Dr. Bernard Gros, a cardiologist at the medical school and fourth-year student Paul Adedoyin, who encouraged him to share his work with the research community. He also praised the FIRE module support staff who helped him acquire funding and schedule time to work on his research. “The College of Medicine is very supportive of students and their research, it’s not something I take for granted.” Kim said. “I’m very grateful, because they really go above and beyond.”

In addition to the UCF College of Medicine’s annual support of all FIRE projects, a grant from the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation has helped the FIRE Program remain strong and vibrant.

Learn more about Kim’s research in his published journal here.

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