Meet our next Science Hall of Fame Member: Natsuko Nina Yamagata '17

She's looking for new ways to kill cancer cells.

Photo/Mike Lovett

Natsuko Nina Yamagata '17

Major: Chemistry

Lab: Professor of Chemistry Bing Xu 

What are you researching?
I am studying a peptide sequence derived from an immunoreceptor tyrosine inhibitory motif (ITIM). Specifically, I am looking at the ability of ITIM to form hydrogels along with ITIM's chemical character and its cytotoxicity on cancer cells such as HeLa and Saos-2 cells. I synthesized five stereoisomers of this specific peptide sequence then studied each one of them. Remarkably, each isomer behaved rather differently. I plan to modify this peptide sequence to see whether I can make its gelation and cytotoxic properties better.

Now can you explain that in plain English?
I made gels using five types of short protein sequences, and I checked to see whether those gels could kill cancer cells. Although to different degrees, the gels did have potent effects on cancer cells. I'm planning on tweeking our current protein chain so that a certain type of gel can kill the cancer cell better, or vice versa, the gel let cells survive. These Science Hall of Fame graphictwo opposite gel systems can be applied to many things like cancer therapy or making ideal environments for cells to live in.

What's the most critical thing you've learned about doing scientific research?
To make research fun, you have to understand your subject from various aspects and levels.

Have you been involved in any published papers? How did that come about?
I'm one of the co-authors on three published papers (links below), for all of which my mentor is the first author. My mentor's name is Crystal Jie Zhou, and she is a 4th year PhD candidate. I'm also working on my senior thesis (the gels project described above) which I plan to publish in a journal as co-first author (with my mentor) sometime during this academic year.

Future career plans: I'm currently looking into research positions in the sciences in Quebec (because I would like to utilize my French skills, and Quebec is pretty) and teaching assistant programs in France (also because I would like to utilize my French skills, and France is pretty). After the gap years, I would like to go into medicine.

Links to Natsuko's papers: 

Zhou, J.; Du, X. W.; Yamagata, N.; Xu, B.* “Enzyme-Instructed Self-Assembly of Small D-Peptides as a Multiple-Step Process for Selectively Killing Cancer Cells” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2016, 138, 3813-3823.

Zhou, J.; Du, X. W.; Li, J.; Yamagata, N.; Xu, B.* “Taurine Boosts Cellular Uptake of Small D-peptides for Enzyme-Instructed Intracellular Molecular Self-assembly”, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2015, 137, 10040-10043.

Zhou, J.; Du, X. W.; Wang, J. Q.; Yamagata, N.; Xu, B.* “Enzyme-Instructed Self-Assembly of Peptides Containing Phosphoserine to Form Supramolecular Hydrogels as Potential Soft Biomaterials” Frontiers Chem. Sci. & Eng., 2016, in press. (no online link at the moment)

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