Kidney Stone Research: A Blast in Birmingham

This week, Dean Kim takes us inside his summer experience as a medical research assistant.

By Dean Kim ’20, Chemistry and East Asian Studies

I spent this past summer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham conducting kidney-related research in the Department of Urology. Since my last blog, I have spent nine weeks in Birmingham, Alabama making amazing memories, conducting exciting research, and eating lots of fantastic food.

All the KURE students celebrated the experience at the UAB Summer Expo: (left to right) back row: Skip, Brian, Chava, Jillian; middle row: Shamyra, Ellen, Miles, me, Stephen, Jeff; front row: Viangkaeo, Meryl, Mary Claire, and Emile

I had an incredible time performing medical-related research in a lab for the first time in my life, as well as learning about everything from kidney physiology and pathology to diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases, during my weekly kidney cross-talk workshops. In lab, I studied the metabolism of glycolate to oxylate in human kidney proximal tubule cells using cell culture to determine how kidneys contribute to the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones. (Fun-ish fact: around 1 in 10 people will get kidney stones in their lifetime!) Through this experience, I was able to explore my interest in the field of nephrology.

From left to right: Skip, Chava, Emile, me, and Meryl at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday. Not pictured: the three samosas I just bought from a stand and ate.

On weekends, when I wasn’t in lab, I took time to explore the local area with other students in the program. We walked to the local Farmer’s Market, watched the Birmingham Barons play baseball at Regions Field, hiked at Red Mountain Park, and even visited the World of Coca-Cola, over the course of the summer. My trip wouldn’t have been complete, of course, if I didn’t eat copious amounts of Southern barbecue. My personal favorite barbecue restaurant was Dreamland BBQ.

My summer concluded with me giving a poster and oral presentation at UAB and then attending the Kidney, Urologic, and Hematologic (KUH) Summer Undergraduate Research Conference in Boston, where I shared my research experiences with other undergraduate students across the country participating in similar research programs.

I presented my summer research at the UAB Summer Research Expo on the last day of the program!

The summer went by too quickly, but I’m making sure to stay in touch with the great friends I made this summer as well as my excellent mentor. I owe a huge thanks to the KURE Program for providing me this opportunity, as well as my mentor, Dr. Sonia Fargue, for introducing me to the world of medical research.