2023 | Volume 24 | Issue 4

Sean Seo

Fellow and PhD scholar Dr Sean Seo, a proud recipient of the New Zealand Research Scholarship 2022, acknowledges the scholarship as a catalyst for his dedication to advancing medical knowledge and improving patient care.

With the support of this prestigious scholarship, awarded by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), Dr Seo conducted research on body surface mapping of the colon, which directly aligns with the focus of his PhD thesis.

At the core of his doctoral studies, Dr Seo's primary objective is to develop and validate a non-invasive technique for measuring colonic motility and identifying biomarkers of colonic function.

Colonic functional disorders are highly prevalent, affecting approximately one in four or five individuals worldwide, and place a significant financial burden on healthcare (US$9000  per person per annum).

“To this day, our understanding of the pathophysiology and biophysical appearance of colonic dysfunction is limited. Diagnostic criteria and guidelines for treatment are still based on reported symptoms without objective physiological biomarkers. Progress in this field has been limited primarily due to the lack of appropriate technology to observe colonic motility in health and disease, hindering the evolution of more targeted and effective management strategies,” Dr Seo says.

By leveraging the scholarship, Dr Seo has delved deeper into his research, developing a non-invasive method to detect colonic motility. It has also helped him to better understand the phenotypic appearance of perioperative colonic dysfunction.

“My research journey has been incredible, filled with innovative transnational projects, supportive supervisors, and collaborations with researchers worldwide. It has been a humbling experience.”

Dr Seo recently presented his main validatory study at the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons Annual Scientific Congress and is now preparing the manuscript for publication.

The impact of Dr Seo’s research holds great promise. His aim is to establish body surface colonic mapping as a method for detecting biomarkers of colon function. "This novel approach has the potential to revolutionise the field by enhancing our understanding, diagnosis, and management of colonic disorders," he says.

“Identifying and using biomarkers can lead to personalised medicine, targeted therapies, improved patient outcomes, and potentially reducing costs in managing these disorders.

"The validatory study has paved the way for other studies and has attracted interest from the scientific community," he adds.

Born in South Korea, Dr Seo’s family immigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand when he was seven years old. Growing up in Auckland, he developed a strong interest in medicine and enrolled at the University of Auckland, where he completed his medical degree.

He began his career in the Wellington region and while working as a junior doctor found a strong resonance with general surgeons. “My interest was piqued by the diverse range of pathology and procedures in surgery. But it was the people in the field, approachable, professional and clinically holistic surgeons who drew me towards general surgery,” Dr Seo says.

Dr Seo advises prospective applicants to persist in their pursuit of scholarships, highlighting the importance of developing a deep understanding of the clinical significance of their research question.

“The competition for RACS Fellowships is intensifying, with more surgically minded junior doctors considering academia to be part of their careers. Having a clear understanding of the research project’s clinical significance and the potential positive impact it may have for patients increases the chances of a successful scholarship application,” he says.

Balancing work and personal life have been challenging for Dr Seo, especially after becoming a father and relocating to Canada to support his wife in her stroke neurology Fellowship.

He recognises the significance of a positive mindset, being open to diverse experiences, and staying physically active through sports and other hobbies. He is a keen tennis player, hiker and snowboarder.

Dr Seo has secured a trauma Fellowship at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, Canada, an opportunity he has embraced to enhance his surgical expertise as he nears the completion of his PhD and his time in Canada.

RACS offers a range of scholarships and grants to assist Fellows and Trainees with research, learning and development. Find out more: www.surgeons.org/scholarships