On beam nights at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba, Japan, Matthew Genet and Ian Cartwright know it’s going to be at least an 18-hour day. But they aren’t complaining – the opportunity to work with heavy ions is not taken for granted. Nowadays, few American scientists, even fewer graduate students, and even fewer undergraduate students ever get the chance to conduct research looking at the impact of high-LET charged particle radiation on cells.
“We’re studying chromosome aberrations and the differences between low-LET (linear energy transfer) radiation and high-LET charged particle radiation; basically the difference between gamma rays and beams of ions, including carbon ions,” said Cartwright, a PhD student in the laboratory of Dr. Takamitsu Kato, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. “Our focus is on dicentric chromosome formation, DNA inversion and sister chromatid exchanges; the roles DNA repair mechanisms play, and how exposures affect these mechanisms.”
Dr. Takamitsu has a joint appointment with the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, located in Chiba, and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. The faculty and student exchange program in which he and students Cartwright and Genet are participating is part of a broader partnership between the institute and Colorado State University to develop programs in research, teaching, and clinical applications in carbon ion radiotherapy.
Cartwright and Genet arrived in Japan in mid-May and will be staying until July 15.
“There are a lot of challenges to working here; the language barrier is tough, cultural differences, and a lot of customs we are not used to yet, like taking off your shoes everywhere,” said Cartwright, who is sharing an apartment with Genet while in Chiba. “It’s not like home. Before we left, Dr. Kato gave us a PowerPoint on what to expect, but no matter how prepared you are, it’s completely different.”
Genet’s brother, Stefan, completed his master’s degree in Dr. Kato’s laboratory and Genet was able to get a research job in the same lab. This year, he felt fortunate to be picked to travel to Japan.
“It’s been really great so far,” said Genet, who is a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences at Colorado State University. “The culture is new, the language barrier is challenging, but we manage to get along pretty well. The research opportunity is amazing and really motivates me to want to go to graduate school, and maybe go on to get my MD. My brother just got his master’s and was able to come here twice. He recently got accepted into medical school.”
Appreciating the cultural differences is a part of the program as well, as American and Japanese researchers learn to work together in a collaborative environment, building on the strengths of each other.
“I’m really fascinated with cancer biology and radiation biology,” said Cartwright. “I have two more years before I complete my PhD, and get ready for post-graduate work. This represents a huge opportunity for research and publications, and I hope to get as many as I can before I graduate. This is a very unique area of research especially because we are not just focusing on radiation biology, but the molecular aspect as well.”
The College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences began its formal association with NIRS in 2008 when the two institutions signed a research and education partnership agreement, based on relationships established in previous years with faculty members in ERHS. Since then, the partnerships have resulted in student exchanges, joint faculty appointments, an expansion of research projects (particularly in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in 2011), and the cooperative procurement of a new data management system for maintaining cancer records.