Where Are They Now? Vol. 4
“Where Are They Now?” is a series about TMU alumni that explores the relationship between studying and life as a student, TMU experiences, and their current work.
Tokyo Metropolitan University Completed a Master's degree at the Graduate School of Systems Design in the Department of Mechanical Systems Engineering after graduating from the Human Mechatronics Systems Course (at that time) in TMU’s Faculty of Systems Design. Has been enrolled in the Mechanical Engineering doctoral program at University of California, Berkeley since August 2021.
I’m working in a cutting-edge field, applying engineering knowledge to medical treatments in order to help people suffering from intractable diseases
How was student life during your undergraduate years?
I made full use of the benefits of a comprehensive university to try studying a wide range of things. When I first enrolled, I couldn’t really envision my future, so while I belonged to the Faculty of Systems Design, I also took courses in business administration and philosophy to expand my knowledge beyond my own faculty. I think it was because I wanted to find a field to focus my attention on. I was having trouble finding a clear goal, and there was definitely a time when I wasn’t able to maintain motivation in my studies.
The turning point came in my third year of university. I was diagnosed with an eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorder (EGID), which the government has designated as an intractable disease. EGID is an autoimmune system disease with an unknown cause. Naturally, no cure has been established, and I myself have experience the limits of medicine in dealing with it. At the same time, I also thought, “I want to help people suffering from the same illness.” So I started to think that I could pave the way by taking what I was studying as a mechanical systems engineering undergrad and applying it to medicine. Working in the lab on an interdisciplinary medical engineering, I decided to go to graduate school to deepen my research into connecting engineering to medical care.
Did you immediately enroll in TMU’s graduate school?
Actually, I was accepted into a Master’s course at a Master’s course in Medical Science, but I wanted to take an approach to medical and life sciences research based on the engineering skills I cultivated as an undergraduate—so I chose to study mechanobiology at TMU as a graduate student. I also thought that knowledge of life sciences was necessary for this research, so I focused on life sciences as a member of the first class of the graduate interdisciplinary program. In my research, for example, when blood vessels contract, a force is applied to surrounding cells, and the cell nuclei deform and change the fate of the organism. One result can be canceration. In trying to elucidate the process, I developed a method for analyzing intranuclear strain, which was selected for two of the top international conferences in this field and also published in the journal, Journal of Biomechanics.
My own intractable illness also made me feel that I needed to/had to know more about the world. My academic advisor, Professor Naoya Sakamoto, who has a strong international network of research colleagues, suggested the option of studying overseas. As a first step, I decided to see the research activities in various countries while I was a graduate student. I took an internship with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research(A*STAR). Also, I participated in a short-term study abroad program at University College London and studied for six months at the University of California, Berkeley. At A*STAR, the active collaboration with foreign institutions and the strong collaboration between researchers from different specialties on joint research projects had a profound effect on me, and I realized I wanted to be part of that. When it comes to tackling difficult research themes, I thought that joint research that collectivizes knowledge is important.
It was a symposium held at TMU that decided my next step. I was moved by a presentation given by Professor Mohammad Mofrad from the University of California and decided that I wanted to study under him.
One of Dr. Mofrad’s visions is exploring the mechanisms of cell nuclei from a bioengineering perspective—biomechanics/mechanobiology—and extending it to medicine, the field of “mechanomedicine”[understanding the molecular basis of human diseases via state-of-the-art molecular biophysics and biomechanics approaches.] This is the research theme that I am most interested in.
I aim to be a leading mechanomedicine researcher.
That mission is what drives me.
You’re based in the US at the moment?
I’ve been studying for my doctorate at UC Berkeley since August 2021. I focus on elucidating the mechanisms of intractable autoimmune diseases, doing research in the mechanomedicine field for disease control and drug discovery. There are many cases where research into intractable diseases has been hindered by a lack of resources, including research personnel and funds, so I hope to become a researcher who leads in this field and who can raise awareness through effective information dissemination, secure resources, and promote joint research. My mission of becoming a world-class researcher is the force that drives me.
In closing, could you offer a few words to your juniors and students preparing for entrance exams?
Actually, I didn’t even score 400 [out of a possible 990] on TOEIC in my first year of university. However, I believe one can do anything with a goal and motivation. Although studying abroad is an economic burden, TMU has various scholarship systems and the International Affairs Office will give you solid advice if you go talk to them. If you don’t have a clear picture of the future, it just means that you don’t have enough information about what kind of challenges you should take on. If you make an effort to experience a variety of things and fully devote yourself to things that you feel passionate about at that point in time, you will come to see what path you should take. In that respect, TMU offers plenty of opportunities to tackle a wide range of study subjects. Faculty and staff provide friendly support so you can maximize your use of the great environment offered by the university.