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November 21, 2011

Imaging new pathways in the human brain

photo of Kayo Takahashi

Kayo Takahashi, Research Scientist

Molecular Probe Dynamics Laboratory, RIKEN Center for Molecular Imaging Science

What do you do at RIKEN?

I work as a researcher in the Molecular Probe Dynamics Laboratory, which is a part of the RIKEN Center for Molecular Imaging Science (CMIS).

How and when did you join RIKEN?

In November 2006, I was studying at the graduate school of Uppsala University in Sweden when I heard that the RIKEN facility for the Molecular Imaging Research Program (MIRP) was starting up. Center for Molecular Imaging Science director, Yasuyoshi Watanabe, invited me to the institute and I was delighted to have the opportunity to join the program as one of the original members.

What attracted you to RIKEN?

I had a very favorable impression of RIKEN as being one of the leading research centers in Japan, providing an environment where researchers can dedicate themselves to their research. This is the main reason why I looked forward to being involved with the newly established MIRP.

How was the transition to life at RIKEN?

As I was starting a new research project, some aspects did not progress as smoothly as expected at the beginning. However, I greatly enjoyed this challenge, and it has been an invaluable experience to observe how my research and that of my colleagues has gradually produced results over time.

Please tell us about your research or other work at RIKEN.

I am currently investigating how the distribution of an enzyme in the brain called aromatase, which plays a vital role in controlling both male and female hormones, affects an individual’s temperament. Until now, I have been researching aromatase expression in the brains of rats and monkeys. However, through the use of positron emission tomography (PET) technology, I am now able to carry out molecular imaging in vivo, and hence conduct clinical research of the human brain. I have enlisted the help of healthy volunteers, and eventually aim to carry out PET trials to investigate aromatase expression in those who have a tendency towards aggressive behavior. People who suffer from abnormally high levels of aggressiveness may have issues with lack of self-control that influence their social adjustment. I hope that my research will provide insight into improving the quality of life of those who suffer from behavioral problems.

What have been the highlights of your time at RIKEN so far?

I have been very fortunate to be supported by people who have so generously given much of their time and expertise in helping me. Their assistance has enabled me to take on one of the greatest challenges that I have faced—starting clinical trials. Also, since people have normally heard of RIKEN, they are interested in my research and it’s relatively easy for them to understand what I do, which motivates me to try even harder to make a contribution to society.

What is the best thing about working at RIKEN?

RIKEN enables me to carry out the research that I want to focus on, and I work in a stimulating environment where I am surrounded by highly knowledgeable and motivated individuals. Currently at RIKEN I am able to see novel research taking place around me that nobody had thought of several years ago.

What would you say to other people considering joining RIKEN?

I would encourage people to cherish their identity and originality but also recognize that cooperation is often the key to success.