Graduate Scholar Interview: Soonjo Hwang

The Graduate Scholar Series highlights Scholar awardees who have graduated from our program by successfully obtaining extramural funding. These interviews share their research, progress, words of wisdom, and how the program has been beneficial to them.

Soonjo Hwang, MD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He is also a recipient of the 2017 Great Plains IDeA CTR Scholar Award. Get more information on his study HERE.


GP IDeA-CTR: Can you briefly explain the nature of your study?

Soonjo Hwang: I am conducting a neuroscience-driven clinical trial of intranasal oxytocin spray, for youths struggling with irritability and behavioral/emotional dysregulation. There are many children and adolescents who struggle with behavioral and emotional dysregulation such as anger outbursts, irritable mood, being easily frustrated, and having aggressive/violent behavior. Unfortunately there is no clear pathway of helping them at this point in terms of treatment. Thus, this type of clinical trial is critical to provide better options of treatment in the future.


GP IDeA-CTR: How did the Scholar’s Program help you?

Soonjo: It provided great support for my work, in terms of operational cost, personnel time support, and allowing me to use infrastructure of biostatistics, neuroimaging, and clinical trials. At the current stage of my research career, it was critical to have this level of support, to bridge gap between small seed grants and grants for independent researchers. I was able to obtain preliminary data, which attracted the attention of the federal funding agency (NIMH), which led to a collaborative project with them. Again, in addition to the operational cost, support of research time was very critical for me to move forward.


GP IDeA-CTR: What funding did you receive and how will it help move your research forward?

Soonjo: I received U01 from NIMH, which support collaborative work between UNMC and NIMH. This will aim to establish pharmacodynamics, and pharmacokinetics of intranasal oxytocin for pediatric population, especially with irritability. The question we will address with this project is to find out if OXT indeed engages at a neural level in the brain circuitry related to emotional and behavioral dysregulation, and find out if there is any correlation between various doses of OXT and the degree of neural changes/peripheral level of OXT induced.


GP IDeA-CTR: Any words of wisdom for future Scholars?

Soonjo: Keep up with hard work. Managing your time wisely. It is always team work. Most of us have much longer and larger CV if we include all the trials and failures, in addition to the successes. It is important to keep that in mind.


GP IDeA-CTR: What impact will your studies have on communities in the near future?

Soonjo: Hopefully we will have better understanding of these youths who have been struggling with challenging issues of mood and behavioral dysregulation. And also hopefully we will provide better treatment options for them. Again, there is not much of optimal treatment for them, and their struggling has huge impact on their family, school, and the community as a whole.


GP IDeA-CTR: What sort of results have you seen in your study so far?

Soonjo: That oxytocin intranasal spray can be potentially a good candidate for future treatment options for youths with irritability and emotional dysregulation. We were able to observe neural level changes by using neuroimaging, functional MRI, when we conducted preliminary data analysis. This is very promising for the future direction of the study.

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