Naoki Nakayama, PhD
Principal Investigator & Program Director of Stem Cell Engineering and Cartilage Regeneration
Naoki Nakayama, PhD, has joined the staff at Steadman Philippon Research Institute (SPRI) in a new role focusing on cartilage regeneration and stem cell engineering. Naoki joined SPRI after spending the previous eleven years as faculty in the Institute of Molecular Medicine (IMM) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) McGovern Medical School. He also belonged briefly to the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, UTHealth McGovern Medical School, when Johnny Huard, PhD, Director of the Center for Regenerative Sports Medicine (CRSM) and Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) of SPRI, served as Vice Chair for Research.
Naoki graduated from the University of Tokyo (Faculty of Science), Tokyo, Japan, with a major in biophysics and biochemistry. He then joined the Department of Chemistry in the Institute of Medical Science, the University of Tokyo (IMSUT), headed by Dr. Yoshito Kaziro (a foreign member of NAS of the US) as a graduate student. However, as his mentor Dr. Ken-ichi Arai who returned to the Department from Stanford University quickly moved back to California (DNAX Research Institute, founded by Drs. Arthur Kornberg, Paul Berg and Charles Yanofsky at Stanford University), Naoki had an opportunity to complete his PhD thesis (on Molecular genetics of the G-protein coupled receptor signal transduction in yeast), through help from Dr. Arthur Kornberg at Stanford, and continue work as Postdoc, under Dr. Arai at DNAX. Naoki was impressed with the scientifically open and stimulating atmosphere that DNAX provided, and the power of such a pseudo-academic biotech company to advance science. This experience stimulated him to do science outside of Japan, even in an industrial setting. Although he was appointed as Assistant Professor (called Joshu) in his old Institute (IMSUT) in Tokyo, he decided to move back to California first as a Principal Investigator at Amgen, Inc., and participated in various basic/discovery research in the area of developmental hematopoiesis, using mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs), as well as in drug discovery research in the area of bone and cartilage diseases, until he took a position in Australia as a step toward returning to the academic world.
Naoki is a pluripotent stem cell (PSC) specialist. As Principal Investigator in Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute and Australian Stem Cell Centre in Melbourne, Australia, and then as Associate Professor in IMM UTHealth in Houston, his research has been focusing on basic as well as translational aspects of human embryonic hemogenesis and skeletogenesis using human PSCs, such as ESCs and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), as a model system, and he established an unbroken track record. PSCs tend to generate embryonic/fetal cell types. During our fetal life, many important functional cells are newly generated. For example the first definitive blood cells are generated in fetal liver and our joint cartilage is also newly developed in the course of limb development. Recently, Naoki’s group at IMM UTHealth has made a significant progress in establishing methods to control the genesis from human PSCs of a type of cartilage-forming cells, resembling those specialized in joint cartilage formation during mouse embryogenesis, which may show beneficial effects on cartilage regeneration in the adult joint. Naoki believes that rejuvenation is one of the keys for success in regenerative medicine. Therefore, he considers that study and use of tissue-specific fetal progenitor cells (e.g., joint progenitor cells) are important to establish regenerative medicine for the adult tissue of interest (e.g., intrajoint cartilage and ligament), and that the human iPS cell technology is critical to achieve such a goal, since thus far, it has been the only reliable cellular rejuvenation technology to obtain fetal cells from elderly patients.
Naoki’s title in SPRI is Principal Investigator, Director for Stem Cell Engineering and Joint Regeneration Program reporting directly to Dr. Johnny Huard. Supported by NIH and other external funding sources, Naoki will not only expand the research on the human PSC-derived joint cartilage-forming cells, but also conduct new cartilage research programs, which will complement SPRI’s clinical expertise and current research portfolio, and also serve as a mentor to a variety of researchers and visiting fellows in the laboratories, at SPRI. He is excited about the opportunity to work in an environment where everyone is interested in skeletogenesis, skeletal disorders, and skeletal regeneration and repair.