Postdoc Iku Kimura of the Uchida Lab has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Japan Science and Technology Agency. The fellowship program, named “Promoting Individual Research to Nurture Seeds of the Future” (PRESTO), supports early career Japanese researchers as they pursue high-impact basic research.
“I feel honored about being chosen as a recipient of this fellowship,” Kimura says. “The fellowship will grant the recipients around $400,000 as a research budget, and young researchers including me who will start their own lab can get additional funds.”
Kimura is currently wrapping up her time in the Uchida Lab and preparing to move back to Japan, where the PRESTO fellowship will enable her to get her own lab up and running.
As a postdoc in the Uchida Lab, Kimura has focused on dopamine neurons and how they respond to threats. Working with Brett Graham of the Center for Brain Sciences, she developed a “monster task” where a thirsty mouse must confront a large, moving toy dinosaur in order to consume a water reward. “In this task, a thirsty mouse is able to forage to get water reward but a big dinosaur-like toy (“monster”) surges to the mouse when he approaches the reward,” Kimura explains. “We found a unique population of dopamine neurons promoting avoidance of potential threats (=monster) with sacrificing reward.”
“Iku is special in that she really likes experiments,” says Research Fellow in the Center for Brain Science Mitsuko Uchida, who has supervised Kimura’s work in the Uchida Lab. “Iku is curious and eager to work more and more, both on her own projects and with anybody in the lab and in the neighboring labs. I am looking forward to seeing her leading the scientific fields in her home country.”
“Iku has made significant contributions to our research with her passion and creativity to pioneer new areas in the lab,” adds MCB faculty Naoshige Uchida. “She has a unique ability to run multiple experiments at the same time. We will miss her enormously. We wish her great success in her future endeavors.”
Kimura plans to continue building on her dopamine neuron research as she embarks on her career as a primary investigator. “I am interested in the potential relationships between this threat-related dopamine neurons and psychiatric diseases,” she says. “Although dopamine-related drugs are used to treat a variety of symptoms in various psychiatric diseases, why and how the dopamine drugs can ameliorate reward-unrelated symptoms has not been understood. I would like to study the roles of threat-related dopamine neurons in disease and their treatments.”
Congratulations to Dr. Kimura!