When I was 14 years old, I decided to develop novel drugs without side effects. That was my motivation to be a researcher. I have focused on the development of functional molecules, mainly nucleic acid drugs. Conventional approaches for molecular design have been explored for efficient interactions between a drug and its target molecule with high specificity and high affinity. However, our human immune system immediately responds to such drugs and materials, and tries to exclude them from our body. Although new modalities for drug discovery including antibody drugs, nucleic acid drugs, and cell therapy products have recently been developed, even highly optimized advanced drugs exhibit immunogenicity in some cases, and this immunogenicity has become a major challenge for clinical applications.
However, during my pregnancy, I experienced a symbiotic relationship with my baby, who is definitely a separate individual. My body did not reject my unborn baby, and this symbiosis is achieved via “symbiotic communications” between mother and fetus using an intricate and fascinating system, the placenta. This amazing experience led me to question whether the conventional approach was ideally suited for drug discovery research. I told this idea to this research unit members and discussed many times to resolve those problems described above. What is a crucial factor of materials to be recognized as “non-self materials” of “self materials” by our human body? Finally, we found “symbiotic weak interaction” between materials and biomolecules/living cells as one answer to solve this problem.
Materials communicate with living cells/biomolecules through “symbiotic weak interaction“. Those interactions are so weak, but this “weakness” is so important for “material symbiosis”. This weakness allows it possible to flexibly change the recognition pattern between materials and living cells/biomolecules depending on the environment. However, for this weakness, it is not easy to visualize and quantify the fast and unstable interactions. But I believe that by the fifth year of this project, we will be able to find new biophysics and chemistry parameters for material symbiosis and establish a new field called “material symbiosis”.
If you are interested in this “symbiotic weak interaction”, please join our group! And I hope that we can start writing a textbook on “material symbiosis” together in the future!