Q&A with international undergraduate medical student Reika Ikegami

Friday, December 20, 2013
Fourth-year medical student Reika Ikegami
Fourth-year medical student Reika Ikegami from Tokyo Medical and Dental University

From Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Reika Ikegami is a fourth-year medical student who is conducting research with LMP Professor Michael Ohh. Reika was chosen from seven students who wanted to study abroad and will return to Japan in February 2014 after completing her five-month “Project Semester.”

What are you researching with Prof. Ohh? I’m trying to understand, at the molecular level, the mechanisms that govern the pathogenesis of a childhood cancer called juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia  or JMML.  One of the cellular hallmarks of JMML is the hypersensitivity of leukaemic cells to a growth factor called GM-CSF (granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor).  I am investigating the molecular mechanism that regulates signalling from the GM-CSF receptor, which ultimately determines normal monocytic as well as leukaemic cell proliferation and survival.  Lessons learned from my research study will reveal fundamental understanding of GM-CSF receptor regulation that will provide the foundation for future therapeutic strategies to manage children with JMML, a disease currently without cure. 

Why did you want to study abroad? My university has a program called “Project Semester” and for five months students study in the lab. Some study in Japan and others, like me, study abroad.

Why did you choose to study in Canada? I really wanted to study English. I like Canada because it combines some American and some European features. There are so many nationalities here that I can easily speak to people.  I really like nature and Canada is beautiful.

I’m also interested in cancer and I asked Dr. Miyake, a professor of the Department of Clinical Oncology in Japan, where I should study. He introduced me to Prof. Ohh and it turns out that Prof. Ohh and Dr. Miyake trained together as postdoctoral fellows at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Why are you interested in cancer? In Japan, the highest cause of death is cancer and a lot of people are suffering from this disease. In medical school, I just finished learning about how cancer can occur in many organs, and that it’s not easy to treat. I think it’s interesting that each type of cancer is different depending on where and how fast it grows. Overall, I think it’s important to discover more effective treatments.

How will your experience in research affect your clinical practice? Last week I finished my first western blot, but I couldn’t get the desired results so I can understand how challenging it can be to obtain meaningful results from research. It’s given me an appreciation of the process of how basic science can influence medical practice. It takes so much effort from many different people to improve medicine.

What is it like to work in Prof. Ohh’s lab? People in the lab have been very nice. People are always talking to me and asking if my experiment is going well. I’m very happy to be able to study in such a wonderful environment.

Outside of the lab, what have you found interesting about Canada? I went to Niagara Falls and I’ve never seen such a big falls. I also saw a zombie parade and it was really interesting. People in Japan don’t celebrate Halloween so these two experiences were very new to me.

I was surprised that people have been very friendly to me. I stayed at a bed and breakfast near here and I met a lot people who showed me around the city.

What are your plans for the future? I’m in my fourth year as a medical student, and I will continue to train to become a doctor. After my sixth year, I’ll work as a training doctor. I might pursue research in the future because it’s common for doctors to practice medicine and also conduct research.