Soichiro Yamada: Young investigator wins prestigous award for cancer cell research
Soichiro Yamada likes to think of cancer-cell behavior in terms of a favorite piece of playground equipment: the jungle gym.
Like children climbing in, out, over and around the metal structure, cancer cells migrate through surrounding tissue, allowing disease to spread into different parts of the human body.
Yamada’s work to understand this migration has resulted in a major research award. The UC Davis assistant professor of biomedical engineering is the recipient of a coveted 2009 Beckman Young Investigators Award.
The three-year, $300,000 award will allow Yamada to continue his examination of the molecules responsible for propelling cancer cells to move and invade other tissue.
Using the jungle-gym analogy, the 36-year-old Yamada explains that cells have to grab onto other cells within the matrix of surrounding cells, and pull themselves through and into other tissue.
“My proposal is to analyze how these invasive cancer cells migrate through the surrounding environment, which includes collagen and neighboring normal cells and other tumor cells,” he said. “We are interested in how much forces are generated by single cancer cells to accomplish that.”
Yamada’s emphasis on the mechanics of cell migration differs from other approaches to understanding cancer-cell behavior, including gene expression and cell morphology.
“It’s a novel concept,” he said. “It’s important, because during metastasis, cells have to generate forces in order to invade. If I know which molecules are responsible for moving these cells, I could potentially inhibit that, and it could have therapeutic potential.”
Yamada’s work also is an example of the kind of interdisciplinary research taking place at UC Davis, where engineers like himself delve deeply into the mechanics of cancer. Yamada and his graduate student, Thuc Nghi Nguyen, designed a miniature biosensor that can measure forces exerted by a single cancer cell to aid in their project.
Yamada was one of 11 recipients of the 2009 Beckman Young Investigators Award, given in memory of Arnold O. Beckman, founder of Beckman Instruments, a scientific instrument company. The 2009 awards will be the last, according to the Arnold and Mable Beckman Foundation’s Web site.
The UC Davis Beckman award recipient completed his postdoctoral training in cell biology at Stanford University and received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
For more information on Yamada’s research, visit his laboratory Web site at http://yamadalab.ucdavis.edu