Atsushi Miyawaki Awarded 2020 Keio Medical Science Prize

Atsushi Miyawaki was co-awarded the 25th Keio Medical Science Prize for developing bioimaging technology that allows researchers to observe the cell’s most intricate details.

AsianScientist (Nov. 14, 2020) – Professor Atsushi Miyawaki has been co-awarded the 25th Keio Medical Science Prize for developing innovative molecular imaging that has been the foundation for recent progresses in the life sciences. Miyawaki, the Laboratory Head at RIKEN Center for Brain Science and the RIKEN Center for Advanced Photonics, is one of two recipients of this year’s prize.

The other laureate is Dr. Aviv Regev, executive vice resident of Genentech Research and Early Development. Regev is recognized for her work developing key computational and experimental methods for single cell analysis.

Used around the world, Miyawaki’s imaging technology allows researchers to observe microscopic molecular activity within cells. Throughout his three decades of research, two major breakthroughs stand out—ScaleS and AkaBLI.

Likened to Superman’s x-ray vision, ScaleS is a clearing reagent that makes tissue transparent and reveals structural details of cells and organs. Previous methods ran the risk of damaging the very structures they were designed to help study, but after five years of improving their recipe, Miyawaki and his team created a solution that would maintain the shape of the transparent brain samples. Paired with fluorescent chemical compounds, researchers can now generate multi-colored high-resolution 3D images of cell and organ structure.

Three years later, Miyawaki and his team debuted AkaBLI, a bioluminescence imaging system that can be used in living cells and animals. AkaBLI has a bioluminescence 1000 times stronger than previous reactions and it can be injected into an animal or included in their drinking water, although the latter will have a less intense glow. Because of its stable and long-lasting glow, cell activity can be tracked over time from outside the body. Using AkaBLI, researchers were able to track deep-brain neutrons in a marmoset monkey for more than a year.

“In May 1983, as I was perusing several works at Kitasato Library, I came across an article written by Dr. Lubert Stryer titled, ‘Fluorescence Energy Transfer as a Spectroscopic Ruler’, and was immensely inspired by it. Since then, I have traversed various academic fields in pursuit of nascent technologies and concepts that could potentially revolutionize molecular imaging,” said Miyawaki, who has made leaps and bounds in the field of molecular imaging since reading Stryer’s groundbreaking work.

The Keio Medical Science Prize is awarded annually by Keio University to researchers who have made outstanding and creative contributions to the fields of medicine or the life sciences. Laureates receive a certificate of merit, a medal and a monetary award of 10 million yen (~US$96,400).

Laureates are selected through a rigorous review process by about ninety Japanese academics from within and outside Keio University. Eight laureates of this prize have later gone on to win the Nobel Prize, including Yoshinori Ohsumi and Tasuku Honjo who each won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2016 and 2018 respectively.


Source: Keio University; Photo: RIKEN.
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