Dr. Youngil Lee received his Ph.D. from The University of Florida where he studied how endurance exercise protects the heart against a heart attack. With one year of postdoctoral research experience at the Bioscience Center at San Diego State University, Dr. Lee continued his cardiac research as a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of California in San Diego (from 2009 to 2012) where he investigated possible molecular and cellular mechanisms responsible for cardiac protection.
Dr. Lee currently serves as an Assistant Professor and Director of the Exercise Biochemistry Laboratory in the Department of Health, Leisure, and Exercise Science in the College of Professional Studies.
Dr. Lee was born and raised in Seoul, Korea where he trained as a gymnast and was a member of the National Gymnastics Team.
That experience was the beginning of a long path to his present research interests. In college he continued his athletic training but studied physiology to understand how muscle responds to exercise – why athletes “hit the wall.” He earned a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science in Korea and then earned another Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology at University of Texas, Austin where he studied mechanisms responsible for hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. During that time he also became interested in the role of exercise in maintaining and maximizing cardiac health.
Lee was amazed at the U.S. infrastructure for athletics and for exercise in general. This was in contrast to limited access to exercise opportunities in Korea where students as well as schools devote more time and financial support to their studies:
Education in Asia, in general, is more rigorous than in the U.S. Students study from morning to afternoon, then after dinner, they go to evening school (private institutes) to study math and English. There is very little time for exercise.
Youngil Lee studied with Dr. Scott Powers at University of Florida. Dr. Powers is recognized as one of the nation’s top faculty researchers in Exercise Science. Dr. Lee conducted five years of cutting-edge research as a graduate assistant with Dr. Powers on an NIH R01-funded research project during which he studied the cellular basis of heart function during endurance exercise.
About the year 2000 a major shift in NIH funding required scientists to integrate data from genetic and molecular studies into whole organism (in vivo) studies. Boundaries that existed between these different areas of study vanished. Today collaboration across disciplines is highly expected and why I am in integrated physiology (molecular and cellular exercise physiology) today.
Dr. Lee’s current research is focused on a protein that regulates intracellular processes in cardiac cells. The protein stimulates autophagy (a process which identifies and removes damaged proteins and dysfunctional organelles). Dr. Lee’s working hypothesis is that endurance exercise promotes the expression of this protein, thus improves the rate of removal of dysfunctional organelles (i.e., mitochondria), and contributes to maintaining optimum cardiac function. The clear function of the protein is of interest to researchers seeking for a prime protection against cardiac disease.
Read a paper he published in the American Journal of Physiology related to his core research area:Mitochondrial autophagy by Bnip3 involves Drp1-mediated mitochondrial fission and recruitment of Parkin in cardiac myocytes. “