On February 1, 2013, Hiroshima University established two new programs: the “Distinguished Professors” (DP) program and the “Distinguished Researchers” (DR) program. Individuals who are part of these programs are recognized as senior and junior faculty members respectively, who are engaged in extraordinarily distinguished research activities.
What is your name and specialty?
My name is Yaichiro Kotake – my research field is neurotoxicology. Neurotoxicology tries to determine how environmental chemicals damage the brain.
What do you mean by environmental chemicals?
There are countless chemicals in the world – we are aware of approximately 100 million. A proportion of those chemicals – about 100,000 chemicals surround us in our daily lives; these are environmental chemicals.
Are these chemicals in this office right now?!
Yes. We are forever breathing air which includes chemicals, but only a very small amount are potentially damaging. Cosmetics, cleaning products, synthetic materials, and car fumes are just a few of the sources.
Are levels of such damaging chemicals increasing?
No, it is not getting worse, it is just that now we have a greater understanding of their presence, and are trying to resolve their damaging effects.
Can you give an example of an environmental chemical you are working on now?
I am doing research on organotin. It exists in seawater, mainly as a sediment at the bottom of the ocean. It originated from the bottom of ships in the 20th Century. It is no longer increasing but it is not decreasing either. I hope to resolve its toxicity to the human brain.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Two years ago, I was appointed as a Distinguished Researcher. I am very proud of this. I sometimes have a tendency to be a little pessimistic about things but this gave me great hope!
Have there been any disappointments in your career?
In 2004, I studied abroad at Johns Hopkins University in the States. I came into contact with excellent researchers from all over the world and felt a little intimidated around them. I was shocked at how high the bar was there, rather than disappointed. I was researching neuroscience – so a little different from what I do here, but I only stayed for one year and in life sciences you need a minimum of two to achieve anything really. Communication was also very difficult!
What’s the next big thing in your field?
We are developing an evaluation index for identifying toxic chemicals. This will help us easily distinguish between toxic and non-toxic chemicals.
What is the best thing about working at HU?
I think HU has just the right pace for a comfortable and productive environment. I have worked in other universities where the scale is just too big and you can feel lost or insignificant – the pressure to succeed is also overwhelming so that research actually suffers. HU works for me.
And, the worst?
I can’t think of anything that stands out as negative. As time goes on my research is getting better, I have more-reliable collaborators, and my students are hardworking. This makes me feel better as a result.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Well I imagine I will still be at HU. I am working on resolving the environmental causes of Parkinson’s disease – I need to develop the evaluation index to search for the chemicals that cause it. Environmental chemicals are important for the onset of this incurable neurodegenerative disease, so if I can contribute to this understanding it will be of great benefit to society.
Do you think there will be a cure for Parkinson’s in the future?
I really hope so, but my research is only concerned with the cause. I hope it can be cured with the use of this knowledge.
When not working do you have any hobbies?
I don’t really have hobbies, but I do enjoy having fun with my two daughters who are aged eight and five. I enjoy teaching them new things also.
Where do you hail from?
I was born in Hyogo Prefecture near Kobe, and after that I lived in Tokyo from five-years-old until I was 28. I completed grad school and a Ph.D at the University of Tokyo before moving here to HU. 20 years have passed since then.
And finally, if you could be anything other than an academic what would you be?
Well I really like travelling, so perhaps I would work for a travel agency!
By Richard J. O’Connor
Find out more about Associate Professor Yaichiro Kotake, and how to contact him, here: http://seeds.office.hiroshima-u.ac.jp/profile/en.15e44c2172d1d7f0520e17560c007669.html
The other DRs and DPs can be found here: https://www.hiroshima-u.ac.jp/en/ru/researcher/DP_DR