March 2019: Yazawa Lab


What is the main focus of your lab?

The lab works on 1) drug discovery and 2) new technology development for stem cell research

We are particularly interested in drug discovery for lethal genetic children cardiac diseases. We hope our study can be translated to extend their life.

We work on developing a couple of new optogenetic tools for light-inducible gene knockout and metabolic imaging at single-cell resolution. We hope the new technologies can accelerate stem cell research, especially at CSCI community.

How long have you had your lab? When did you join Columbia University?

I started the lab 6 years ago, in 2013.

How big is your lab currently?

My lab currently has 8 members.

Where is your lab located?

We are now located in VP&S 7th floor (until March 2019) but are soon moving to the BB 11th floor (in April 2019).

Current affairs:

What are the most exciting projects/directions in the lab at this moment?

“FDA drug repurposing” project for a rare genetic disease, Timothy syndrome. This interesting finding has been translated to major cardiac arrhythmias such as long QT syndrome and most of lab members are involved in this exciting project. Actually, the lab’s 1st graduduate student, LouJin Song (currently a postdoct at Pfiezer), found a seed and grew buds as her thesis project, and the current members (Kumi/postdoc, Jay & Ramsey/grad. student, Hannha/Barnard undergrad, Amy/high-school intern) have obtained lots of apples. This project has shown that my lab members are really great team players. I really appreciate their personality and the lab culture they have created.

What are the biggest accomplishments that your lab recently had?

1) The above drug repurposing; 2) The development of new metabolite biosensors (by Jay & Ramsey/grad. student); 3) The improvement of photoactivatable Cre recombinase (project led by Kumi/postdoc); 4) Protein engineering project (project driven by Fuun/postdoc).


What are the model systems that your lab is using?

We use human pluripotent stem cell (both ESC and iPSC), mouse ESCs and mouse models. We currently have a collection of more than 25 Cre/Flp driver mice.

What are the key techniques that your lab is using? Are you open to training scientists from other labs?

Each member has their own strength/expertise in the lab including: protein engineering (Fuun/postdoc), cell culture, mouse heart study and molecular biology (Kumi/postdoc), biochemistry and imaging (Jay & Ramsey/grad. students) and mouse/human ESC/iPSC culture and electrophysiology (myself). Of course, training and collaboration offers will be very welcome.

What facilities or equipment does your absolutely lab rely upon? Do you use CSCI cores?

Transgenic mouse facility (Victor’s), Proteomics (Rajesh’s at CUIMC & Lewis’s at Morningside Heights campus), Confocal microscopy (Theresa’s), CCTI two-photon/confocal microscopy (Joji’s), CCTI flow core (Siu-Hong’s) & Pathology-Histology (Kevin’s).

Yes, CSCI core members have shared lots of valuable techniques and equipment. Also, we are so excited to have new lab space together with Mike’s CSCI flow core from April 2019.


What's your best approach to mentoring trainees in the lab?

Growing up together. Share mistake/error and think together for troubleshooting in the projects, and then avoid the same mistake/error in the lab. Also, I have learned lots from our lab’s student/postdoc and thesis committee- both our members’ thesis committee and other lab students’ committee. Especially, LouJin’s committee, Steven Marx, Henry Colecraft, Rich Robinson, Geoff Pitt, and Rocky Kass helped us move forward in Timothy syndrome project to identify the above FDA drug repurposing.

Who were your most influential mentors/role models in science and what did you learn from them?

Hiroshi Takeshima (PhD mentor): how to design experiments and discuss critically

Ricardo Dolmetsch (postdoc mentor): how to manage a lab and enjoy science

Brian Kobilka & Roger Kornberg (neighbors during postdoc): attitude in science

Can you recommend courses/lectures in Columbia University that would be most beneficial for students/postdocs?

The Stem Cell course because of the diverse lineup of stem cell topics.

What would be your career advice for students/postdocs?

Think, consider, feel... No easy way to find. I believe that scientific activities and logical thinking will be applicable to any type of job anyway.


What was the main reason of you joining CSCI?

Chalk talk at CSCI in 2012 was enjoyable and constructive. The senior attendees, such as Rocky, Gordana and Angela as well as the former director Chiri Henderson, provided me with helpful advices to improve my future projects and research direction. At CSCI, I felt I could still grow with them. Also, I felt CSCI home-like: for example, the first time when I met the department chair Joel Stein at 1st visit, I did not feel this was the first time for me to talk with Joel. I cannot have explained such an experience, how I felt then. That experience was quite unique and interesting during my job interviews. Also, my 2-yr old son, Joe, made a song for Columbia University & New York when we had 2nd family visit.

What are the beneficial aspects of CSCI membership for your lab?

Training/mentoring opportunity. Also, sharing new technologies among the faculty.

What do you plan to bring to the CSCI community?

Some new methods, technologies, protocols, resources and materials that could be useful for the CSCI community. Mentoring/advising at WIP and thesis committee meetings.

Lab management:

How do members of your lab celebrate accomplishments?

Having dinner at restaurants which the member(s) selects.

Does your lab have any fun traditions?

Lab desk/bench shuffling at least once a year.

What is the key to running a successful lab?

Eye contact, observation and finding right time to talk with trainees. Share troubles and think together until you find ways to troubleshoot problems.

What was the most exciting part about starting your new lab?

Meeting and finding new people, purchasing lots of lab items (!), considering new projects and writing grants.

What has been your greatest challenge in managing your lab?

Time management for meetings & experiments (patch clamp), and project priority setup . This is because some of the projects are for grant strategy, student graduation, publication/tenure and/or my personal “ambitious” interest/hobbies. I often swith my mode for each above goal. Because one of Japanese senior colleagues, Koji Nakanishi at Chemistry, who is now over 90 years old, let me know that he has really enjoyed science until his age, I believe I may still have “50 years” as an active PI. Therefore, sometimes I try to imagine what’s ongoing in next couple of decades in science rather than short-term research goals.

What are the most important recent developments in the stem cell field?

Cell lineage tracing technology

Stem Cell Directions:

Which stem cell conferences does your lab attend?

ISSCR and Keystone Symposia