Top Japanese scientist leaving government post to move to the University of Chicago Medical Center

Top Japanese scientist leaving government post to move to the University of Chicago Medical Center

January 9, 2012

Yusuke Nakamura, MD, PhD, Secretary General in the Japanese Government's Office of Medical Innovation and a professor of molecular medicine at Tokyo University's Human Genome Center, has stepped down from his leadership position in the Japanese Cabinet Secretariat. He will join the faculty at the University of Chicago in April 2012.

Nakamura was actively recruited by the University of Chicago for a faculty position in the Department of Medicine to continue his innovative program in anticancer drug discovery and development, as well as his internationally recognized research in genomics and pharmacogenomics.

"Dr. Nakamura has made major contributions to modern genetics and genomics," said Kenneth Polonsky, MD, Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. "We are extremely gratified by his interest in continuing his illustrious career at the University of Chicago."

"This was a wonderful opportunity for me," said Nakamura. "I have long enjoyed a collaborative relationship with colleagues at the University of Chicago, which has very strong programs in cancer, pharmacogenomics and human genetics. I strongly wish to bring discoveries in basic medical science to the bedside, and improve the quality of life of cancer patients. I look forward to the opportunity to work closely with scientists as well as physicians there who take care of patients with cancer."

Nakamura, 59, is a leading authority on using large-scale genomic research to understand various genetic diseases and cancer, and to develop cancer peptide vaccines and targeted anticancer drugs. He has done fundamental work on developing the tools for genetic mapping. He discovered genetic variations associated with common diseases or those related to drug responses as well as genes responsible for several inherited disorders. And he played an important role in the International HapMap Consortium, one of the most important biomedical achievements of the last decade because it laid the groundwork for modern genomic medicine.

Nakamura has also focused on applying genetic information to improve the care of cancer patients, working to bring his laboratory's discoveries into the clinical arena. His cancer research at the University of Tokyo led to the formation of OncoTherapy Science in 2001, a highly successful public Japanese biotechnology company that concentrates on new cancer therapies.

"We are very excited to add such an internationally prominent scientist to our faculty," said cancer specialist Everett Vokes, MD, chairman of the Department of Medicine. "We look forward to the profound impact Dr. Nakamura's recruitment will make through his own work and by providing many collaborative opportunities."

Nakamura began his career in 1977 as an abdominal surgeon. Frustrated by the shortcomings of available cancer treatments--he lost his mother to colon cancer--he entered a PhD program at Osaka University in molecular genetics in 1981. After completing his PhD, he spent five years as a research fellow and then as a faculty member at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Utah, an international center for gene mapping.

He returned to Japan in 1989 as head of the biochemistry department at the Cancer Institute, in Tokyo. In 1994, he was invited as a professor in the Institute of Medical Science, the University of Tokyo and named director of the newly created Human Genome Center at the University of Tokyo in 1995.

When the Japanese government launched its Millennium Genome Project in 2000, Nakamura was named group leader for the genetic diversity program at the renowned RIKEN Center for Genomic Medicine. He became the director for the RIKEN genomic center in 2005. In January 2011 he was appointed Special Adviser to the Cabinet and Secretary General of the Office of Medical Innovation by the Japanese Government.

Nakamura has received many awards for his work on cancer genetics, gene mapping and other projects, including the Princess Takamatsu Cancer Research Award in 1992, the Keio Medical Science Prize in 2000, the CHEN Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in Human Genetic and Genomic Research in 2010, and the Japanese Medal with a Purple Ribbon, for contributions to education and culture.