Norio Nakatsuji, Gibco Hero of the Month

Professor Nakatsuji graduated from School of Science of Kyoto University in 1972. After earning his Doctor of Science from the Graduate School of Science of Kyoto University in 1977, he spent some years at Umea University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, George Washington University and University of London. 

Prof. Nakatsuji then joined the Meiji Institute of Health Science in Japan as chief researcher/division head in 1984. He became a professor at National Institute of Genetics in 1991.  In 1999, he moved to the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at Kyoto University and became the institute's director in 2003. 

Since 2007, he has been the founding director and professor at Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences, Kyoto University (WPI-iCeMS).

When did you first get interested in science? What inspired you?
I was born in a small town in Wakayama Prefecture surrounded by rich nature including a major river (Kino-kawa) and fertile forests. I was interested in plants and animals as a child, and it led to serious interests as far as making collection of almost all fern species samples in that area. I was also fortunate to have a very good high school biology teacher, who instructed me to carry out a kind of biological research to make a hypothesis and test it with experiments. Thus, I was determined to go into a biological research career by choosing Kyoto University School of Science, which was recognized as the top science school in Japan.

What are three highlights of your scientific journey?
I started my research career as a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow in developmental biology of early amphibian embryos and then later mouse embryos, which led me to use the mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells at Cambridge, UK in 1983. Later, I started my own laboratory using these very interesting cell lines.

After I joined Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences of Kyoto University in 1999, my laboratory derived human ES cell lines in 2003 and distributed them to many scientists for research. This work determined my research direction toward making best use of these very important cell lines.

Since 2007, half of my work effort is dedicated to acting as the founding director of the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (WPI-iCeMS), which is a truly global multidisciplinary institute. This job is challenging but now I can feel that we are accomplishing something big to create a new model institute for the next generation in Japan.

What is your future outlook on the next fifty years?
Today with huge uncertainty around the world, it is very difficult to make any prediction or speculation for the next fifty years. I sincerely hope that there will be much less war and natural disasters on earth, but we cannot be optimistic without serious efforts by people and many countries.

For my specific research area, I like to imagine that human pluripotent stem cells will be used for treatment of difficult diseases in a large number of patients at a reasonable cost, in addition to increasing safety and decreasing costs of new drug development.

What do you expect from Gibco in the future? Or could we have a few words from you about Gibco?
My first encounter with Gibco was when I was at Kyoto University Graduate School of Science. That is 40 years ago and I was 22 years old. One group of researchers in our lab was doing research with mouse embryonal carcinoma cell line, which was novel back then, and I remember them using Gibco’s culture media with great care. Since then, as mouse and human cell culture has become indispensable part of my research, Gibco has been something I am always close to and can depend on. Culture media will continue to be imperative, to be improved more and more and will never lose its importance. I expect Gibco to continue its success as a global standard going forward.

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