What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
I have been working at the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) in Japan as a principal investigator since March 2020. This coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. CiRA shifted some its resources to work on the development of a therapeutic drug for COVID-19. Because I have researched various viruses in the past, I started SARS-CoV-2 research. We generated human bronchial organoids and are now trying to develop a COVID-19 therapeutic drug. Obviously, a COVID-19 drug could change the world greatly. It is reasons like this that make me feel my research is worthwhile.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
My father is also a researcher, so I aimed to become a researcher. My father is a mathematician and is still continuing his research activities. I can't understand mathematics papers at all, but I am impressed with my father's devotion to his work. When my father worked in the US, we lived in Ithaca, NY, and Berkeley, CA. I think working in an international environment is one of the attractions of being a researcher.
My interest in stem cell research came from reading about the discovery of iPS cells in the news. Their potential for drug discovery and regenerative medicine is great, and Japan has devoted a lot of resources to this research. I eventually took interest in organ regeneration using stem cells, including iPS cells. I am now enjoying stem cell research as a member of CiRA.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
I have developed a novel method for differentiating stem cells. When stem cells differentiate into somatic cells, the cell morphology changes significantly. For example, cells that have multiple nuclei or cilia can be observed differentiating into hepatocytes or bronchial epithelial cells, respectively. It is exciting to observe such dynamic changes in cell morphology. I am currently working as a PI at CiRA. I have much to learn about the process of deciding which research areas to challenge, securing staff and budgets, and validating ideas.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
Enjoy your research! Research that cannot be enjoyed is difficult to continue. If the current situation is difficult, it is important to change the research theme or the laboratory. When choosing a lab, I think you should choose a mentor who enjoys her/his research.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
Dr. Shinya Yamanaka: The papers that established iPS cells have a great impact on my career.
Dr. Karl Deisseroth: His work is very exciting. I always enjoy reading his papers.
How do you spend your free time?
I just started up my lab, so I don't have much free time yet. I love going to dinner with my friends. I like being with people who are passionate about their work. I used to run marathons when I was a graduate student, and I hope to resume soon as CiRA has many people who like marathons.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
I spend a lot of time in the lab. I sometimes stay a night at the laboratory. I know the CiRA shower room well. I learned the violin for about 10 years as a child, so I can play the violin.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
It is very valuable to interact with many researchers and get useful information at ISSCR annual meetings. I look forward to attending the annual meeting next year in Hamburg. Recently, COVID-19 Networking Meetings have been held weekly and I look forward to participating.