Treating cells outside the human body

Kayo Inaba is working on dendritic cells, which act as the body's first line of defense when responding to a threat (bacteria or virus). The Japanese scientist proved these cells could be treated outside the body, and then reintroduced. And she discovered that cells treated in this manner could eliminate tumors.

Professor Kayo Inaba is known for her discoveries regarding the immune system, particularly the role of dendritic cells. These cells are the human body’s first line of defense when responding to a threat, such as bacteria or virus, or to the presence of abnormal cells such as cancer cells. She was among the first to demonstrate the crucial importance of these “sentinel” cells. Her pioneering work on extracting and culturing dendritic cells is recognized worldwide and constitutes a key advance in fundamental and applied research.

She proved that these cells could be treated outside the body and then reintroduced into the organism to stimulate immune system response, thereby opening a new path for cellular therapy. She also demonstrated that dendritic cells treated in this manner could eliminate tumors, a discovery that resulted in a new type of anti-cancer treatment.

A love of nature

Professor Inaba believes that her success as a scientist is due to a capacity for observation which took root in her childhood. Having spent her time exploring fields, ponds and streams, she speaks of those days with poetic reverence.

“I grew up in the country and I observed tadpoles become frogs and watched the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, beautiful creatures that took flight before my eyes. It was these early adventures that led me to biology and still inspire my love of experimentation.”

Equality equals Diversity

Professor Inaba’s pioneering discoveries appear all the more impressive when she states quite matter-offactly that as a young student she never had high hopes for obtaining even as much as a university post, not to mention the vice-presidency of one of her country’s most prestigious institutions. “Women professors were rare and all I knew was that I simply enjoyed doing experiments.” Feeling isolated in

the male-dominated atmosphere of her first job, she decided that one way for a woman not to be ignored, and perhaps to advance, was to “take on the tasks no one else wanted and work hard to accomplish them.”

Her perseverance indeed paid off and ultimately brought her to the pinnacle of her profession, but one of

her main goals is now to ensure that today’s aspiring women researchers do not undergo the same sort of negative experiences.

"More women mean more diversity."

She was the first female Associate Professor in Kyoto University’s Faculty of Science and in her current position as Vice-President for Gender Equality and Director of the Center for Women Researchers, she is busily creating a far more hospitable environment for her gender. Not simply to encourage them, but for the sake of science itself.

“We need to move forward as quickly as possible on so many issues and a diversity of approach is essential to advancing research. More women mean more diversity.”

More about Kayo Inaba:

For Women in Science

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