Dr. Shingo Kajimura, Assistant Professor in the UCSF Diabetes Center and UCSF Dentistry's Department of Cell and Tissue Biology, has been selected to receive the 2012 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
Says Dr. Diane L. Barber, Professor and Chair of the Department of Cell and Tissue Biology, "Shingo is an outstanding investigator with exceptional promise. He is also a superb teacher and a highly valued colleague. We are thrilled that Shingo's excellence is being nationally recognized and honored with this award."
Dr. Kajimura's work focuses on obesity and the metabolic problems that result from it, and on finding new methods of combatting them.
Obesity is a major risk factor for metabolic disorders such as type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Adipocytes, also known as lipocytes or fat cells, are the cells that primarily constitute adipose tissue, and are specialized in storing energy as fat. Adipose tissues serve as central regulators of energy homeostasis in response to a variety of environmental and genetic factors; they do this by systemic signaling via secretion of various adipokines (cell-signaling proteins), and by adaptive thermogenesis.
The main focus of the Kajimura Lab is to uncover the "molecular circuits" that control fat cell development and function by employing a wide range of molecular biology, developmental biology and biochemical approaches, together with mouse genetics.
Two types of adipose tissue, white and brown, are found in mammals: white adipose tissue (WAT or "white fat") functions exclusively in the storage of excess energy, while brown adipose tissue (BAT or "brown fat") specializes in the dissipation of chemical energy in the form of heat, through a process called non-shivering thermogenesis. Due to its remarkable oxidative capacity to dissipate excess chemical energy, brown fat function is tightly linked to the development of obesity and metabolic disorders.
Dr. Kajimura explains: "We're trying to develop methods of converting white fat to brown fat, considered to be 'good' fat, using genetic and chemical techniques. Hopefully this will result in a novel approach to dealing with obesity and type-2 diabetes that increases the expenditure of energy, rather than modulating or restricting either food intake or lipid absorption in the gut."
Reflecting on the recognition, he is quick to frame it thoughtfully. "As a basic scientist, the most exciting thing is science itself" notes Dr. Kajimura with a smile in his voice, "but at the same time, to be recognized in this way is a tremendous, highly motivating honor."
Shingo Kajimura presenting to the UCSF School of Dentistry Faculty Retreat, September 2013
- White House Press Release: President Obama Honors Outstanding Early-Career Scientists 
- Kajimura Lab