Dr. Suang Suang Koid
Unravelling the Mystery of Cardiorenal Syndrome
JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow, The University of Tokyo, 2016-2018
Ph.D. (Cardiovascular Pharmacology), University of Melbourne, 2015
Tutor and Demonstrator, University of Melbourne, 2008-2015
Coming to Japan from Malaysia, Dr. Suang Suang Koid is conducting research as a JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Tokyo. Her host, Prof. Tatsuo Shimosawa, transferred to International University of Health and Welfare, Mita Hospital in April, but remains a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo. We asked Dr. Koid about her research activities and life in Japan.
Q: What are you currently researching under the JSPS fellowship?
My research topic under the JSPS fellowship relates to the role of immune cells in a condition known as cardiorenal syndrome (CRS), in which kidney and heart disease occur at the same time. Under this condition, kidney problems are thought to accelerate the progression of heart problems, and heart problems are thought to accelerate the progression of kidney problems. The cause of CRS remains unclear. We are working to identify the key immune cell populations involved in the pathogenesis of this syndrome and eventually develop therapeutic strategies to prevent premature death in patients resulting from this condition.
Todai in the fall
Q: How did you first become interested in your research subject?
I became interested in CRS when I was doing my PhD research back in Melbourne, Australia. In my doctoral project, I investigated the cardioprotective effects of a drug called aliskiren. Many patients with cardiovascular disease develop kidney diseases, and half of the people with kidney failure die from heart disease. Current treatments alleviate the symptoms of CRS, but are still not very effective in helping patients feel better and live longer. I chose to study CRS during my JSPS fellowship because I want to help improve the quality of life for these patients.
Q: What were your research experiences before coming to Japan?
I received a prestigious Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) scholarship for conducting my doctoral research. During that time, we elucidated the mechanism of cardioprotection of the drug aliskiren, and reported our findings in the journal Hypertension, which is well-regarded in my field. I won awards for oral and poster presentations at domestic and international conferences, and participated in a number of collaborations, including work on a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. I was also invited to act as a peer reviewer for a journal in my field, which really made me feel like a member of the scientific community.
Q: How did you get to know your Japanese host researcher?
I first got to know my host researcher, Prof. Tatsuo Shimosawa, through his mentor Prof. Fujita, who has done a lot of work on kidney disease. I met Prof. Shimosawa at one of the biennial meetings of the International Society of Hypertension, and he agreed to host me in his laboratory for a week in 2014. Based on that experience, we decided to submit an application for a JSPS fellowship.
Q: Other than the relationship you formed with Prof. Shimosawa, why did you choose Japan to pursue your research?
I have always had an interest in Japan. I loved the Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball comics when I was growing up, and studied Japanese as a hobby during my undergraduate days. During my PhD studies, I saw very good research coming out of Japanese laboratories, and was lucky enough to spend an enjoyable month in an immunology lab at the University of Tokyo. Another important reason that I chose Japan to pursue my research was that my husband was also offered a JSPS fellowship to do research here in Tokyo.
Q: What is your impression of Japanís research environment?
In some regards, the technology I am using here in Japan is more advanced than that in Australia, but in other regards, the technology is more advanced in Australia. The Japanese research environment values practice-lots of it. My project is surgerybased and therefore highly technical. Here, I have had a lot of opportunities to practice, to Todai in the fall get to the highest standard of reproducibility in my disease models, and thus to achieve robust results. In addition, there seems to be more money allocated to research in Japan. The pharmaceutical industry in Japan appears to contribute to academic research and development, which is still not very common in Australia.
Q: Before coming to Japan, what was your image of the country? Has your perception changed?
Prior to living in Japan, I had the impression that working hours here were long and inflexible and that employees generally had very little time for their family or friends. However, after I started living in Japan, I saw that a lot of the local people actually make time to travel, and enjoy their private lives as well as their work. I also had the impression that Japan was very strict about rules. But since living here, I have found that even though there might be a consensus about the right way of doing things, people can also be flexible and even happy to work around the rules when necessary!
Q: What do you plan to do after your fellowship ends?
I would like to continue to contribute to improving the lives of patients around the world.
Q: How about in Malaysia? Would you like to apply your research to societal betterment in your country as well?
I think that science is a very important part of any society and that scientific thinking is essential to improving the health and wellness of the general population. I hope to be able to apply the outcomes of my research to creating new medicines that improve the lives of people around the world. I would also like to remain involved in science education so as to train the younger generation of scientists.
Dr. Koid's host Prof. Shimosawa
Soon after beginning our interview with Dr. Koid, our preconceived notion of somebody who performs heart surgery being a bit intimidating was dispelled. Her unwavering commitment to the daunting challenge of elucidating the mechanisms of CRS have in no way diminished her radiating charm and outgoing friendliness. Dr. Koidís immune-cell research, which she is pursuing on this syndrome that occurs in the relationship between the heart and kidneys, is painstaking and must be very stressful. She told us that she finds a happy balance by hiking in the mountains of Japan and joking around with her colleagues. We were extremely impressed with the loftiness of her goals, which are not only highly scientific but also deeply humanitarian. As Dr. Koid continues advancing her research, we look forward to her work contributing to the achievement of the milestones she seeks in the treatment and care of CRS patients around the world.