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 In Focus

The biology of neuroblastoma

Published 2001-01-05

In my PhD project at the Department of Medical Chemistry and Cell Biology in Professor Keiko Funa’s group at Göteborg University I seek to clarify the biology of neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is the most common type of solid tumor found in infants and arises in developing or immature cells of the sympathetic nervous system.

In the spring of 2005, STINT gave me the opportunity to visit the laboratory of Dr. Nakagawara at Chiba Cancer Center Research Institute, in Chiba, Japan. It was Dr. Nakagawara himself who established the research institute, located in the Chiba Cancer Center hospital. Dr. Nakagawara is a world-leading authority in neuroblastoma research and currently acts as chairman of the Advances in Neuroblastoma Research (ANR) committee, as well as being the Director of the Chiba Cancer Center Research Institute.

When I was studying literature and articles concerning neuroblastoma I realised that my project was quite related to that of a research group in Japan. Interestingly, it just so happened that the group leader of that laboratory had been invited by Professor Funa to hold a guest lecture at the university. The lecturer was Dr. Akira Nakagawara. His lecture strengthened my belief that if I was to spend time in another laboratory, during my PhD, his laboratory was the one. Luckily, Professor Funa supported my idea of doing a part of my PhD abroad and with her help further contact was made with Dr. Nakagawara who graciously accepted me to visit his group for a period of six months.

I already had some knowledge about Japan and the Japanese culture. I had even studied the Japanese language at the university, but not as my major. One thing I knew for certain was that Japan was an expensive country. Knowing this, and having the salary PhD students have, I knew I had to search for external grants to be able to go to Japan. Through the support of STINT I left for Japan in May 2005.

At the research institute I worked with my PhD project but under the supervision of the principal investigator of the Division of Biochemistry, Dr. Toshinori Ozaki. Interestingly there is a wide variety of neuroblastoma with very different outcome; some regress, others mature and differentiate to the benign form ganglioneuroma while the remaining have very poor outcome. My PhD project focuses on the abnormal regulation of growth factor receptors in neuroblastoma. The growth factor receptor I study is the Platelet Derived Growth Factor Receptor Beta (PDGFRβ). This receptor has been found to be expressed in many types of tumors and is known to be conditionally regulated in the nervous system, especially in late development and in the adult. We therefore raised the question if neuroblastoma had abnormal regulation of PDGFRβ expression. We have previously characterized the regulation of the PDGFRβ and found that it is under the control of members of the p53 tumor-suppressor family of proteins. Through Dr. Ozaki’s insights and understanding of p53 family members he gave me many helpful suggestions how to proceed with my project. From the work done in Japan we made interesting discoveries concerning the effect of anti-cancer drugs on the regulation of PDGFRβ. I am currently working on a manuscript dealing with the discoveries partly made during my stay in Japan.

Everyone can agree that the picture of a Japanese researcher is that of a hard-working researcher. This is indeed true. From my experience, conducting research in Japan means working long days and many weekends. One of my main worries before leaving for Japan was not the work pace, but instead the language. I realised that my Japanese language skills were rudimentary at best and from what I had heard the Japanese were quite reluctant to speak English. Luckily, as it turned out, many researchers were able to communicate in English without problem. However in daily life outside of the laboratory the language-barrier became a problem. It is therefore a good idea to have basic skills in the Japanese language before leaving.

Expect the unexpected! Well not quite as dramatic as it sounds but Japan is a completely different society from Sweden. Of course it has some similarities but many were the times when my eyebrows were raised in amazement. One example of this was a ceremony attended by all researchers, hospital board and nursing staff. This ceremony was in honour of all the research animals; rats, hamsters, rabbit, dogs and so on, who had given there life in the name of science. I thought it was a very nice ceremony but I have yet to see something like this in Sweden.

It is my sincere hope that I will be able to return for a post-doc at Chiba Cancer Center Research Institute.

Daniel Wetterstrand
PhD student
Göteborg University
Thunberg scholarship holder

Senast uppdaterad: 06-09-19 14:24

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