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Interlocking Three "Expert Gears" to Elucidate the Immune System

Research to Visualize and Analyze the Movement of Immune Cells

“Development of fluorescent biological imaging technology and comprehensive elucidation of dynamics of cell migration” is research that will lead to the elucidation of immune systems and drug efficacy evaluation through visualization of behavior of cells and biomolecules by fluorescence, or the emission of light by cells and biomolecules that have absorbed light, and quantifying the results of the observations. Immune cells (white blood cells) are made by the bone marrow and patrol the body by using blood vessels that run throughout the body. When an infection or inflammation occurs in the body, they slow down their movement and head outside of the blood vessels toward the site of inflammation/infection. “We’re developing methods to trace these immune cells and discern things such as their bonding with and infiltration of the blood vessel wall in order to elucidate cell migration, the foundation of the immune system,” said research representative Assistant Professor KIKUTA Junichi. He continued to talk about the significance of his research: “We still don’t know the cause of immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, so it’s necessary to start with a proper understanding of the normal immune system in order to clarify the conditions of diseases and develop treatment methods. By making use of live imaging technology (technology that visualizes how cells act inside of the cells of a living biomolecule) that utilizes green fluorescent proteins and chemical probe molecules, we can approach the various interactions between cells, which makes of the foundation of the immune system.”

Combining Medicine, Engineering, and Information Science for Efficient Research

Through collaboration between these 3 researchers, who are active in different fields (medicine, engineering, and information science), an effective flow of “formulate a hypothesis and photograph in vivo,” “design and observe fluorescent molecules,” and “analyze the observation image and quantify the results” was formulated, and research is performed at a steady pace.

The role of Assistant Professor Kikuta, whose area of research is immune cell biology, is to “film and observe cell migration inside living organisms to see the functions of fluorescently labeled immune cells.” Associate Professor HORI Yuichiro, whose area of research is chemical biology, developed technology to illuminate a specific biomolecule in the body, a chemical probe. "We created the molecular structures specifically designed to allow molecules to selectively bond and emit light only when they bond." Assistant Professor SENO Shigeto, who performs research in bioinformatics, a field that applies computer science to solve problems in biology, processed images to trace the movement of cells and analyzed these through data mining, or analyzing big data with computers to acquire useful knowledge. “When it comes to video, it’s difficult to judge the significance of experimental results through visual observations by humans. We were able to perform accurate assessments through statistical processing using information technology.”

The Importance of Performing Research from a Long-Term Perspective

When asked about the results of this integrative research, the 3 researchers remarked, “Even if each individual has a high level technology, one cannot perform interdisciplinary research alone. We’re were able to not simply add our own technology, but rather, advance our research by fitting together our expertise like a set of gears.” They added, “We’re all very close in age, so we were able to really stimulate each others' thinking. I was also able to learn about fields that I wasn’t familiar with.” “There are things that you will never know if you close yourself off in your own area of expertise. It is a big asset to have been able to gain knowledge on information technology,” said the researchers on the merits that can only be seen in collaborative research.

They also mentioned that a strong motivation was the maximum 3 years of research funding support they received. “Collaboration between young researchers and cooperative research that is eligible to receive financial support is limited, so we’re very happy to have been able to receive research funds for such a long period of time. It’s difficult to get results from short term research, so we’re thankful to receive support for the long term,” they said, showing their hope for continued support.

Moving forward, the researchers had this to say: “Our live imaging technology can be used not only for clarifying conditions of diseases, but also for assessing the effects of drugs that already exist or are currently in development. By taking the results of this analysis back to clinical sites, we hope that this will lead to proper use of medicine with each individual patient. We’d like to continue to actively advance and develop this cooperative research even after this Program for Creating Future Wisdom ends.”

Medicine

・KIKUTA Junichi

A 2006 graduate of the Faculty of Medicine, Osaka University, Associate Professor KIKUTA received his doctorate in Medicine after graduating from the Department of Preventative and Environmental Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka University. After serving as a doctor in training in rheumatology at the National Hospital Organization Osaka Minami Medical Center and a special researcher at Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), he started at his position of Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka University.

Engineering

・HORI Yuichiro

Associate Professor HORI Yuichiro graduated from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kyoto University in 1999, and in 2004, he graduated from the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kyoto University, and received his Doctor of Pharmacy. After serving as a doctoral researcher at Rockefeller University and an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University, he began as an Associate Professor in the same school in 2016.

Information Science and Technology

・SENO Shigeto

After graduating from the School of Engineering Science, Osaka University in 2001 and the Graduate School of Engineering Science, Osaka University in 2003, Assistant Professor SENO received his doctorate in Information Science after graduating from the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Osaka University in 2006. He was an assistant in the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology before becoming an Assistant Professor in 2007.

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