Postdoctoral researcher lands Japan Society for the Promotion of Science fellowship

Yuichiro Nakajima, PhD, has been awarded a two-year, postdoctoral fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms that maintain the highly organized architecture of epithelial sheets, single layers of cells that line every body cavity from the gut to mammary glands. The fellowship is Japan’s most prestigious academic award for PhD graduates. It provides the recipient with a generous stipend, as well as travel funds.

Using simple animal fruit flies, Nakajima, a postdoctoral researcher in Associate Investigator Matt Gibson’s lab, investigates how epithelial cells maintain order while being jostled by cell division. As long as epithelial cells pack tightly and adhere to their neighbors, the cellular business of building tissue barriers and constructing ducts goes smoothly. But if epithelial cells fail to hold together, they die, or worse, produce jumbled masses resembling tumors known collectively as carcinomas.

In a 2013 Nature study, Nakajima and his collaborators demonstrated that the way the mitotic spindle—the machinery that separates chromosomes into daughter cells during cell division—aligns relative to the cell layer surface is essential for the maintenance of epithelial integrity. The finding also hints at a surprising way that cells initiate a gene expression program seen in invasive cancers when that process goes awry.