The Kyoto Connection

| Written by Susan Gammon
David Brenner, M.D. with scientists in Kyoto

Sanford Burnham Prebys president and CEO David Brenner, M.D., was recently in Japan for a scientific conference, but his links to the country and its scientists go back decades, beginning in the 1990s with Yoshio Yamaoka, M.D., considered among the best liver surgeons in the world.

Yamaoka was also a champion of academic research in hepatology, the area of medicine that focuses on diseases of the liver. Brenner, a gastroenterologist-by-training, was also a liver disease researcher at UC San Diego.

Over the years, physicians from Kyoto University came to UC San Diego to work as fellows in Brenner’s lab for two to four years at a time. “Their scholarship and productivity have been spectacular,” said Brenner, pictured above with his wife, Tatiana Kisseleva, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Surgery at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The Kyoto fellows have made their mark, Brenner notes proudly, with substantial contributions to the understanding of basic signal transduction in the liver (how cells respond to external substances through signaling molecules on their surface and inside), the cellular origin of myofibroblasts in the fibrotic liver and the role of metabolic syndrome in liver fibrosis, which is characterized by excessive scarring and found in most types of chronic liver disease.

Like Yamaoka, the fellows have risen through the ranks to become professors themselves, most notably Keiko Iwaisako, M.D., Ph.D. (Brenner’s right) and Etsuro Hatano, M.D., Ph.D., (Brenner’s left) chair of surgery at Kyoto University. Hatano continues the tradition, sending new, bright surgeons to Brenner’s lab for scientific training.

“It was with great joy that I gave that seminar at Kyoto University,” said Brenner, recalling his recent visit. “It was my first since before the pandemic, and it was attended by all of the Kyoto alumni from our lab—and my now-retired dear friend Professor Yamaoka.”

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