New Kyurizukai

What motivated you to enter into the world of research?
photo      The origin of my academic career is Prof. Isao Morishima’s lab, to which I was assigned as an undergrad. Back in those days, I already became interested in both biochemistry for molecular-level understanding of life phenomena and coordination chemistry that describes reactivity of molecules using molecular orbitals (MO’s). I was happy joining the Morishima lab and was able to satisfy both of my interests because the lab focused on the structure-function relationship of hemoproteins – an interdisciplinary area between proteins and metal complexes. In addition, the figure of Prof. Morishima that I saw when I visited the lab to look at it for the first time was so impressive I cannot forget it even today. Comfortably sitting on a large chair and smoking a pipe, he eagerly explained hemoglobin reactivity by the molecular orbitals of heme, which was truly inspiring.
      Prof. Morishima was mentored by Prof. Kenichi Fukui who received Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981 for advocating HOMO/LUMO. To my great regret, I missed the opportunity to meet Prof. Fukui in person, but I often heard of this great scholar from Prof. Morishima, which was also a big driving force for me to enter into the world of research.
      In the lab, I did research in electron transfer reaction of proteins while simultaneously learning biochemistry, spectroscopy and thermodynamics. Prof. Morishima was basically a man of leave-alone policy, so I did my research in my own way – testing and verifying what I thought I should do.
      Despite some difficulties and distress experienced in the course of research, every day was really fulfilling – developing hot discussions with all lab members while writing this and that on white boards set up here and there within the lab. I’d also like to mention the then assistant professor Koichiro Ishimori, who thoroughly taught me how to communicate one’s idea to others, including how to write (not to mention scientific papers) and how to make a presentation at scientific meetings. I owe much to him for what I am today as a researcher.

What course of life did you have in mind after graduation?
      So devoted to experiments, discussions and presentations, finding employment with a business was the very last thing I could think of. I suddenly found myself in the third year summer of the doctoral course without any plan for the future – a crisis situation. Thanks to recommendations from many professors, however, I was able to study under Prof. Thomas O’Halloran of Northwestern University who was active and world-renowned for his research in copper chaperone. I thought I might be able to shed some light on life phenomena and the development of various diseases if, in the course of my research in copper chaperone, I could clarify interactions between proteins and metal ions. This idea continues to be the source of energy behind my current research activities.
      “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Prof. O’Halloran often cited this remark of Albert Einstein. While Prof. O’Halloran is currently engaged also in other projects, I’m overwhelmed by his ability to come up with one innovative idea after another. He advised me, saying “Don’t be afraid of creating new ideas, but just enjoy it.” Thanks to this encouraging advice, I’m coming to enjoy my research work even more.
      Later, I joined Dr. Nobuyuki Nukina’s research team at RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan. Dr. Nukina was one of the few neurologists, who were attempting to understand the pathologies of neurodegenerative diseases by focusing on structural changes in proteins. Even today, he sticks to basic studies. As a member of his team, I was privileged to freely use cultured cells and experimental models like mice and rats I had never handled before, as well as costly experimental equipment. These experiences helped me a lot in honing my experimental skills. In this sense, I may call it the most fulfilling period of my life.
      In retrospect, I have been truly blessed with good mentors. Each and every one of my mentors was enjoying their scientific pursuits and their own lives, thus providing me with good role models for my life.