An Interview with Distinguished Researcher Yuhki Yanase

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 Yuhki Yanase. I belong the Department of Dermatology, and focus on skin disorders. My main focus is on biosensors – I develop optical biosensors that detects when cells have been triggered by an allergic reaction.

Are allergies becoming more common?

The number of patients with allergies is increasing because the world is cleaner! So, we are developing techniques to detect the specific allergens which induce allergic reactions. Immunoglobulin E antibodies are produced in the bloods’ plasma to fight perceived threats to the immune system. They specifically bind to allergens and can then lead to the problems we associate with allergies. If we can detect the allergens present in each patient we can thus determine which allergy is present and treat it.

So, dirt is good for us?!

It depends! Clean is better overall, but we must accept that such an environment increases the number of allergic responses people can experience.

What do you aim to achieve in this field in the future?

I would like to continue experiments on allergies and develop better biosensors for their detection.

Where do you hail from?
I was born in Nagano prefecture, but moved six times when I was a child due to my father’s work. For the six years prior to university I lived in Oita. I came to HU 20 years ago and have been living in Hiroshima since that time.

Was there anything in your childhood that suggested you might enter medical research?
When I was a child I had several allergies such as asthma and allergic rhinitis. They were very severe… Since that time I have wanted to develop cures for allergies so that other children don’t have to go through what I did.

Are you cured now?
Most of the allergies are gone but I still have some – weak asthma for example.

If you had not become a scientist what would you be?
I like playing football and had my heart set on becoming a football player when I was young – but I am not so good at playing it!

Outside of work, do you have hobby?
I still like playing football and futsal – a type of five-a-side soccer. I also enjoy spending time with my sons.

What’s the best thing about your job?
I have lots of free time to do experiments at my own pace, allowing me to find new scientific discoveries.

And, the worst?
It is not easy to find new scientific discoveries! I have to work very hard to do so.

Do you have a big team of researchers?
No not so big. There are many people in Department of Dermatology but my team consists of one researcher and two technicians.

What advice would you give to students at HU?
Stay in academia. Many students work hard here before leaving to work in big companies. We need to retain good researchers.

Have you ever studied abroad?
Yes, just one year in the UK. I studied physiology at UCL in London. I studied the role of lipid mediators, such as phospholipase D, for the activation of mast cells – cells that are very important for the development of allergies.

Did you enjoy London?
I enjoyed it very much! I like the architecture and the great beer in the pubs. The pub culture there is something I miss.

In 10 years’ time what will you be doing?
I hope that by then I will be a professor and have my own lab. Whatever happens I will continue my research on allergies and biosensors.

Are you likely to achieve this?
Well, at the moment I am an assistant professor. I would like to be promoted but as this is a clinical lab there are not so many opportunities to climb the career ladder. I might have to find another job in HU or in another uni to make it happen.

In the future, will be able to cure all allergies?
I think that would be unlikely. They won’t disappear but we will improve our diagnostic techniques and treatment of them.

Finally, HU wants to become a top 100 university in the world – is this realistic?
It might be difficult to achieve as the number of research positions and money available for research is being cut currently. – but, I will do my best for HU to achieve this goal!

By Richard James O’Connor

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