Name: Dr Keisuke Kaji
Research institution: MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh
Research career length: 9 years
Research Council: European Research Council
Medical Research Council (MRC)
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Brief summary of research: Reprogramming stem cells
MSc in Bioscience
PhD in involving the analysis of CD9 function in the sperm-egg fusion process, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan
Postdoctoral Fellow in Brian Hendrich's Laboratory, Edinburgh University
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellowships for Research Abroad
MRC Joint Collaborative Career Development Award in Stem Cell Research
Group Leader, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine
European Research Council Research Fellow
Stem cells offer the possibility for treating a wide range of disease and injury. However, often the numbers of stem cells in our body are not sufficient to repair damage. Scientists have found ways to turn normal body cells back into stem cells, so that they can grow, repair and replace damaged or defective cells. For biomedical researchers like Keisuke Kaji, the challenge is in finding a safe way of re-programming body cells so that they can be used for regenerative medicine.
I had liked biology since I was little and was particularly drawn to medicine because I developed cancer when I was 20. I enjoyed travelling, and during my Undergraduate degree in Japan, one of my Professors talked to us about his research experience in Switzerland, which made me realise that becoming a research scientist would be one of the best ways to live and meet people in different countries. After completing my degree I studied both for a Master’s and PhD in his lab. The Japanese government offers a fellowship for PhDs to do postdoctoral research abroad. Since these are highly prized, there was a lot of competition and I worked hard to succeed, which brought me some luck and is how I was able to come to the UK to do my research.
My area of research investigates how to turn body cells into stem cells. When humans are developing in the womb, many of our cells are able to divide and produce new cells that are needed to develop functional tissues. As we grow, many cells lose the ability to divide. Stem cell research looks to make some of these cells become stem cells again, to help repair damaged or worn out body tissues. Though the idea is very neat, managing to achieve it effectively and safely is not easy. Some of the safety issues associated with stem cells are a result of altering cells’ genetic content using viruses. Other methods that do not involve genetic modification can work but are not very effective. I am trying to find out how this ‘reprogramming’ works so that we might make the process both safe and efficient.
My day-to-day work focuses on developing, analysing and interpreting the results of our experiments. In addition to my personal research, I manage a laboratory, supervise students and postdocs, and teach a few lectures each year. I frequently present the findings of our work at seminars in other organisations and meet colleagues from partner institutions every month or so. I teach in a summer school and attend three or four international seminar/conferences every year. I have also joined stem cell courses in Brazil and Greece as a Lecturer - it was fun to get to know the students and scientists from all over the world and to enjoy local foods and activities together. However, my favourite trip was to a one-week conference near to snow covered mountains in Canada, where the meetings only took place in the mornings and evenings, leaving the rest of the day free for snowboarding.
For me, the most fulfilling part of my work is when I find out something new, that no other researcher (including famous scientists) has found before, and I then go on to publish my findings. There really is nothing quite like it - not even snowboarding on pure white Canadian snow!