Skip to main content

Dr. Sarang Yoon Named a Top-Funded PI for FY23

News Sarang Yoon 2

The University of Utah’s Office of the Vice President for Research recently named the highest-ranked investigators in terms of funding. Occupational and environmental health associate professor Sarang K. Yoon, DO, MOH was named the twelfth top-funded principal investigator at the U, receiving more than $7 million in award-dollar funding for fiscal year 2023.

“I feel very honored to be recognized,” says Yoon of the high-profile commendation.

Yoon received several grants in FY23 that ultimately led to four research studies: COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial – Booster Epidemiological Evaluation of Health, Illness and Vaccine Efficacy (BEEHIVE), Influenza Vaccine Clinical Trial – Randomized Assessment of Influenza Vaccine Efficacy Network (RAIVEN), RECOVER – COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness in Frontline Workers, and PROTECT – COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness in Pediatric Cohort.

The BEEHIVE Study, funded by Novavax, compares how well two FDA-authorized/approved boosters protect against COVID-19 in adults living in the greater Salt Lake City area. The goal is to demonstrate the safety of the vaccines and how well they are working. Participants of the study commit to three years of testing and answering questionnaires. The study has good initial results, which Yoon credits in part to how well those in Utah are committing to the study. “The dedication of Utahns has been great. We wouldn't be able to do these studies without them,” she says.

Similarly, the CDC-funded RAIVEN Study focuses on the efficacy of two types of flu vaccines in adult healthcare workers. Yoon’s research team was one of six sites in the nationwide study and the only site approved to focus on immunogenicity, allowing them to collect blood to analyze the reaction of their subjects’ immune systems to the vaccines.

Continuing her vaccine research, Yoon’s CDC-funded PROTECT Study measures the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine in children ages six months to 18 years old. Yoon’s efforts are instrumental in the ongoing response to COVID-19. The real-time reporting of data is crucial for healthcare leaders to understand the impact of the new mRNA vaccines on children.

Also funded by the CDC, the RECOVER Study focused on COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness in healthcare workers, first responders, and frontline workers. Study data contributed to vaccine research and influenced vaccine recommendations from the White House during the height of the pandemic and its aftermath. RECOVER study results were cited in prestigious journals such as Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and media interviews including National Public Radio (NPR).

Although her name is listed as a top-funded PI, Yoon recognizes her colleagues and collaborators as a key factor in her professional growth. “I appreciate my collaborators Kurt T. Hegmann, MD, Andrew L. Phillips, MD, German Ellsworth, MD, and Matthew S. Thiese, PhD for building these studies from the ground up. I want to thank Joe Stanford, MD, Jeanmarie Mayer, MD, University of Utah Health, the department, OEH, the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, my Occupational Medicine colleagues, and last but not least my awesome research team. They've been instrumental in the success of all these studies,” says Yoon.

As she reflects on being recognized for her successful research career, Yoon describes the past few years as a time of growth. Yoon joined DFPM's Division of Occupational and Environmental Health as a clinical instructor in 2018 and quickly advanced to associate professor. In 2020, she dove into epidemiology and vaccine-preventable disease research and developed a team of researchers and staff to support her many research studies.

Collaborating within a team has not only contributed significant research data to the global community but has also been instrumental in fostering her professional growth as both a collaborator and a leader. “Every day I hope to be a better leader than the day before. I want everyone involved to be successful together,” says Yoon. Beyond the excitement of being recognized for her research, Yoon finds motivation in seeing the growth of her staff and students.

That high level of motivation is paramount to research, and a significant element of her success. For Yoon, research endeavors are a lot like rock climbing, one of her (amateur) hobbies. Both require continuous planning, problem-solving, and the ability to turn setbacks into successes. “There are definitely a lot of falls and failures, but learning how to get back on your feet and approach the challenge differently is fascinating to me,” she says.

As the new year begins, Yoon anticipates several advancements from her ongoing research studies. She emphasizes the impact the BEEHIVE Study data could have on vaccine research in providing better guidelines for public health administrations. Similarly, Yoon is optimistic about the real-time data collected from the RECOVER and PROTECT studies and hopes these studies will contribute to the healthcare community’s pursuit of understanding the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Yoon’s motivation to maintain such an impressive number of studies is rooted in her focus on those who benefit from the knowledge she and her colleagues generate. “Ultimately my goal is to encourage people to take preventive measures to help themselves from getting diseases, injuries, and illnesses. I’m hoping the findings of these studies can contribute to that,” she says.

After all her success in 2023, Yoon isn’t ready to take a break. Moving forward, she aims to continue to make impactful contributions to the medical field. “At the end of my career, I want to look back and be able to say I did something good,” she says.