March 14, 2017

iCeMS holds its 20th Café: “Training Rowdy Cells with Limitless Potential!”

On October 22, the day of Jidai Matsuri (“Festival of Ages” , one of the three major festivals in Kyoto), an iCeMS Café event was held at the iCeMS Main Building. This 20th episode was entitled “Training Rowdy Cells with Limitless Potential!”, inviting Dr. Kouichi Hasegawa as the lead speaker and young scientists. A total of 15 participants including housewives, students, office workers, librarians and government employees joined the event.

Dr. Hasegawa first introduced his laboratory’s research using pictures. He presented details of his cutting-edge research on stem cells with some jokes, along with a Japanese-historical-drama-styled story. Stem cells have the ability to change (differentiate) into various biological cells in the body and to replicate infinitely in the state before differentiation. ES cells or iPS cells are types of stem cells which have recently gained attention through reports, for example, of cell transplantation therapy. Everyone has great expectations regarding these cells and they may appear to be “honor students”, however, they are actually very “rowdy kids”. If the cells are not taken care of every day, they start to differentiate undesirably. Also, the cells have an aspect of being “extroverts”, and if the number of stem cells around them is too low, they die.

The Hasegawa Lab has been conducting research on preparing suitable environments for growing these rowdy but delicate stem cells. The lab has been devoted to experimenting every day using various ideas, for example devising culture media or additives, for optimum stem cell growth. If a good “training method” for cells is found, using these stem cells in the development of treatments and new drugs may progress significantly.

After introductory remarks on the research, it was time for discussion. At four tables, the researchers and participants sat to talk to each other. “Where do the stem cells used in research come from?” “Can iPS cells be made easily?” “Why did you start this research?” As questions flew from the participants, Dr. Hasegawa and the young researchers responded politely. When a participant asked “What is the incubation media that stem cells grow in?”, the researchers showed culture fluids and dishes to aid in detailed explanations. After this, the discussion topic spread to science in general and its societal impact. The conversation expanded and flowed freely, breaking down barriers between participants and researchers.

Everyone enjoyed the one and a half hour of harmonious atmosphere, accompanied by hot roasted green tea and Kyoto sweets. Through this event, the participants were able to glimpse a new era of stem cell breakthroughs.

Text: Saori Kobayashi (First-year master’s student of the Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University)