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Mar. 27, 2023

A strong stomach for pathogens

Naoko Satoh-Takayama, Senior Research Scientist

How did you join RIKEN?

My husband and I worked as researchers and lived in France with our baby until 2015. While there, I was on a team that discovered a new type of cell, the innate lymphoid cell, at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Although I was an assistant professor at the time, my husband wanted to return to Japan. So I took a role as a permanent researcher at RIKEN.

Please describe your current research.

I focus on interactions during infection between commensal microbiota—symbiotic bacteria mainly found in the digestive system—and innate lymphoid cells. The latter cells serve protective roles in innate immune responses to infectious microorganisms; in lymphoid tissue formation; in tissue remodeling after injury or infection damage; and, in the homeostasis of the supportive tissues around organs.

A plethora of evidence suggests that commensal microbiota regulate immune responses, and are involved in protection from pathogenic infections. So, clarifying the link between immune responses and bacterial interactions could lead to new methods to control diseases, and potentially even to non-chemical therapies.

What do you think has been the most interesting discovery in your field in the past few years?

Many researchers have become interested in mucosal immunology, which is regulated by mechanisms distinct to those of ‘basic’ immunology. The intestinal tract, one of the mucosal organs, is already being studied in relation to immune responses. But the stomach, which is also a mucosal organ, is often thought of as just a storage organ due to its strong, harsh acidity, and therefore research on its immunological role has been lacking. However, we have found that the stomach plays a critical role as an immune regulator controlled by both commensal and pathogenic bacteria.

Picture of Naoko Satoh-Takayama

How did you become interested in your current research?

I suffered from severe allergic dermatitis as a teenager. At that time, I thought a lot about why my skin was always itching and looked different from others, and I started to think about immunity. And then, later, when I was studying immunology at university, I came across a book with written by Dr. Hiroshi Kiyono, who is an eminent expert in mucosal immunology. That was the impetus for my current research.

How do you balance your family life with your work?

All RIKEN employees are protected by internal work–life balance regulations, such as those related to pregnancy, childbirth, childcare and long-term nursing care, and receive a week of general work–life balance holidays, as well as a certain amount of special paid leave for each specific situation. So I am usually able to take time off to spend holidays with family or friends, which is sometimes difficult to take at many universities.

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