Romancing RIKEN for research links

It’s not easy to establish continuing collaborations with Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution. Founded a century ago in 1917 as a foundation, RIKEN has grown in size and scope to become a network of world-class research centers and institutes.

Prof. Wei-Chiao Chang, director of TMU’s master’s degree program for Clinical Pharmacogenomics and Pharmacoproteomics, explained how he pushed and pushed to become one of RIKEN’s partner labs, but for years received only polite rejections.

Finally a superstar researcher, Prof. Shiro Ikegawa, clued him in that the secret is to establish lab-to-lab links. Prof. Chang said that a project between Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology and RIKEN presented a good opportunity to start this formal collaboration, although the funding competition was tough.

Now, thanks to Prof. Chang’s efforts, his team successfully obtained NT1.3 million in MOST funding to support Ph.D. students working at RIKEN for one year. (And since Prof. Chang has been in their shoes as a RIKAN researcher on a spartan Taiwan grant in that expensive country, he successfully lobbied RIKEN to add more financial support for these students as well, “so they can have a better time in Japan.”)

International program associates (IPAs) are the key to this strong collaboration between TMU and RIKEN. With the support of Prof. Ikegawa, former TMU President Yun Yen, and Dean Pei-Shan Tsai of TMU’s Office of Global Engagement, the agreement between TMU and RIKEN was confirmed in April, making TMU Taiwan’s first private university to send such associates to Japan.

At that time, Ms. Hsing-Fang Lu, a Ph.D. student in Prof. Chang’s lab, submitted her research proposal to RIKEN. Competing with other graduate students from around the globe, Ms. Lu was selected to join the IPA program.

She will go to RIKEN’s Yokohama campus this October to spend a year analyzing genome-wide associative study data – as she did with 7500 samples in her impressive TMU research that secured the prestigious placement.

“Associative analysis is not enough anymore,” she said. Besides combining this with eQTL and epigenetic profiles, her research will further use functional assays in cell lines or animal models to find causal links as well.

Ms. Lu also praised her working experience in the pharmacy of TMU’s affiliated Shuang Ho Hospital. She said she appreciated Pharmacy Director You-Mei Lin for encouraging young pharmacists to work at different jobs there besides dispensing medications.

But like her mentor Prof. Chang, Ms. Lu has changed her career path to pursue a scientific career, not a dispensing or pharmaceutical sales job, after she completes her Ph.D. studies.

“TMU surprised me by having these kinds of international connections and opportunities,” she said. “I would never have this wonderful chance without Prof. Chang’s support. He is a great mentor.” And she said her family supports her year in Yokohama, and are already planning to use her opportunity as a reason to visit Tokyo often.

For interviews or a copy of the paper, contact Office of Global Engagement via