The Proteasome and Ubiquitin System
Unraveling the multitude of biological phenomena regulated by protein degradation
Keywords: Intracellular protein degradation, proteasome, ubiquitin, cancer, aging, immunity
For a period of time after graduating medical school, I mainly examined patients with rheumatism and collagen disease as a physician of internal medicine. Without an understanding of the causes or mechanism of these diseases, I met too many patients who suffered because of a lack of fundamental treatments. This experience made the limits of modern medicine painfully clear, and triggered my decision to go into basic research. After entering graduate school, I knocked at the gate of Dr. Keiji Tanaka (Currently Director General of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science), and immersed myself in research of the ubiquitin proteasome system during its boom period. I was possessed by the joy of unraveling biological phenomena with my own hands, and this experience ultimately led to my decision to abandon my career as a physician and become a researcher in basic science. Thereafter, I have pursued unraveling basic biological phenomena controlled by protein degradation.
In this age when the applied sciences are extolled, basic research may perhaps be unappealing to young people. However, there can be no developments in clinical medicine without fundamental research, which forms the foundations for understanding diseases. For instance, my current research topic is ubiquitin-proteasome mediated protein degradation, and there was no one who could accurately foresee its importance at the time of its discovery thirty years ago. Yet today, it is becoming clear that the ubiquitin proteasome system is not only necessary for life, but also deeply connected to numerous diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative disease, inflammation and immunological disease, and aging.
While there are still numerous unsolved problems in this research field, the time is ripe for applying the fruits of our research in developing clinical treatments. In addition to continuing my pursuit of fundamental problems, I would like to make an effort to repay my debt to those patients who showed me the importance of research with through firsthand experience.