The McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research is pleased to welcome Dr. Aussie Suzuki as its newest faculty member. Dr. Suzuki’s research uses cutting-edge microscopy techniques to study one of the most fundamental aspects of all cancers: cell division.
Dr. Suzuki and his laboratory are interested in the fundamental molecular mechanisms of chromosome segregation. Proper chromosome segregation is a key component of cell division, allowing for one set of genetic material to be passed down to each daughter cell.
“If you want to study cancer, understanding cell division and chromosome segregation is key to learning how a tumor is established,” says Dr. Suzuki. “Studying cell division is fundamental to studying cancer.”
Dr. Suzuki initially studied pharmacy as an undergraduate in Japan, during which time he participated in research on pharmacokinetics and chronopharmacology. There he investigated how optimizing the timing and sequence of administration of drugs could lead to higher clinical efficacy and reduce side effects.
A particular focus of Dr. Suzuki’s undergraduate research was on the cell cycle inhibitors Irinotecan and Carboplatin, drugs used in cancer therapy that arrest cells at a specific stage of their natural cycle of growth, DNA synthesis, and division to prevent the hyperproliferation required for tumor growth. This early work studying cell cycle inhibitors sparked Dr. Suzuki’s continuing interest in the mechanisms underlying how cells divide. This fascination continued to drive his research focus during his Ph.D. studies at the National Institute of Genetics in Japan, and his postdoctoral work in the laboratories of Dr. Ted Salmon and Dr. Kerry Bloom at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“During my undergraduate work, I became very interested in the cell cycle because the most common and universally effective drugs for cancer treatment were cell cycle inhibitors,” says Dr. Suzuki. “Later, as I was working on my Ph.D., I became interested in studying mitosis and chromosome segregation at a more fundamental level.”
As cells divide, they must pass on a copy of their genetic material to each of their two daughter cells. During this process, DNA condenses as chromosomes, which align in the center of the cell. Long protein filaments called microtubules attach to kinetochores, protein complexes in the chromosome’s centromere, and pull the chromosomes apart into two chromatid halves. Each daughter cell will receive one set of chromatids, allowing the amount of DNA in each cell to remain stable over many divisions.
Unfortunately, the process does not always proceed correctly. Improper chromosome segregation gives rise to a range of problems for dividing cells including aneuploidy, an unequal number of chromosomes between daughter cells. A form of genome instability, aneuploidy is implicated in many diseases, including developmental defects and nearly all cancers: approximately 90% of all solid tumors and 50% of blood tumors contain aneuploid cells.
Dr. Suzuki and his laboratory will use advanced light and electron microscopy techniques to study how cells segregate their chromosomes and what factors contribute to proper vs. improper segregation. One promising technique, Fluorescent Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) microscopy, uses fluorophore constructs as biosensors to measure intracellular tensions with high sensitivity at a miniscule scale – on the order of nanometers! This cutting-edge approach will allow Dr. Suzuki’s lab to better characterize forces the cell generates via its kinetochores and microtubules to segregate its chromosomes.
“A major area of interest in cell and molecular biology right now is how mitotic checkpoints are organized, and what trigger satisfies the cell to move past the mitotic checkpoint,” says Dr. Suzuki. “Is the major factor kinetochore-microtubule attachment or tension on the kinetochore? Does microtubule attachment directly provide tension, or are there other important factors? By constructing a very sensitive in vivo tension biosensor, we can now begin to answer these fundamental questions, and this will open doors to addressing many cancer-related questions as well.”
As he finishes setting up his laboratory and hiring his first round of lab technicians and graduate students, Dr. Suzuki is excited by all the possibilities of conducting research at UW-Madison.
“The research community at UW-Madison and the McArdle Laboratory is very supportive and is also a very interactive and collaborative environment, which is the most important reason I wanted to work here,” says Dr. Suzuki. “My research focus is slightly different from many of the other labs at McArdle, but I hope that my strengths in microscopy will not only power my own research, but also help contribute to all of the amazing research being conducted here.”
To learn more about Dr. Suzuki’s laboratory and research, please visit his new website: https://aussiesuzuki.oncology.wisc.edu