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Activities at the Research and Development Initiative

Yayoi Shigemune
Assistant Professor, Research and Development Initiative, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Neuropsychology, Cognitive Science, and Experimental Psychology

Special feature for commemorating the 20th anniversary of establishment of Research and Development Initiative, Chuo University

This year, Research and Development Initiative, Chuo University commemorates the 20th anniversary of establishment. Since it was established in July 1999, it has been tackling problems with the actual society, for the purpose of developing a sustainable society, as a research center with the mission to achieve collaboration among industry, government, and academia and deepen exchanges for research. Over the past two decades, more than 100 research units have been organized, and many research outcomes that are influential academically and socially have been produced thanks to the efforts of a lot of participating researchers.

This special feature is focused on researchers participating in ongoing research units, and describes their research activities, to introduce some of research outcomes at Research and Development Initiative.

Overview of the unit I belong to and current research activities

Currently, I conduct research as an assistant professor in a unit name of Continuous Understanding of Developmental Disabilities and Dementia. The unit is led by Professor Akira Midorikawa for the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Letters. Our unit examines whether continuity through hypersensitivity can be observed between developmental disabilities and typical development, or between developmental disabilities and dementia or higher brain dysfunction. We study neuropsychology in a variety of patients, and study experimental psychology in young and old patients. Previous research on neurological disorder and brain damage has mainly focused on decreased functions (negative symptoms). Conversely, our unit also focuses on increased functions (positive symptoms). A feature of our research is that we advance understanding regarding the balance of networks for decreased functions and increased functions (Figure 1). Specifically, in addition to time recognition of brain tumor patients and the intrinsic motivation of patients with Parkinson's disease, we also research the competition of attentions in young people seeking rewards (Figure 2). For the latter, we use fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) for measuring changes in the brain blood flow.

Background until joining Chuo University

I belong to the Midorikawa Laboratory, which specializes in neuropsychology, a sub-discipline of psychology. From cognitive functional disorders caused by neurological disorders and brain damage, neuropsychology investigates the relation between processing mechanisms and areas in the brain. The discipline is deeply related with medical science. Accordingly, we frequently interact with people during our research. While at university, I majored in biology at a school of science. At that time, I imagined that any prospective career in research would have me researching plants and animals other than human beings. I had no idea that I would conduct research in a field with such a strong relation to people. In fact, for my graduation thesis, I researched the suppression of protein formation relating to memory in cultured cells?a subject which is quite far from my current area of specialization. The procedures for synthesizing reagents and the methods for suppressing protein were very interesting; however, I felt the desire to observe changes in actual behavior more than cellular changes. Consequently, I decided to enroll in the Master's Program in the Graduate School of Life Science, which gave me the opportunity to conduct research using fMRI. Even so, in order to conduct fMRI research at the graduate school laboratory, I was required to train at a different research institution located far away. After receiving a recommendation from my supervising instructor at the institution, I decided to enroll in the Doctoral Program at a laboratory conducting higher-order brain dysfunction research using fMRI and PET (Positron Emission Tomography). While attending junior high school, I had read a book written by the famous neurologist Oliver Sacks about patients with higher-order brain dysfunction. I was deeply interested in the strange and mysterious cases caused by brain damage. In that respect, it may have been inevitable that I joined a laboratory conducting higher-order brain dysfunction research and currently belong to the laboratory of neuropsychology. Nevertheless, in my doctoral thesis, I conducted PET research on the memory enhancement by emotion and reward. After completing the doctoral course, I conducted fMRI research on the memory enhancement by reward and punishment under the instruction of the previously mentioned instructor (Figure 3). Before joining Chuo University, I used fMRI to research the relation of the memory enhancement by sociality and rewards at the Institute of Cognitive Neurology and Dementia Research at Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg in Germany. This means that until joining Chuo University, I had engaged in the research of functional neuroimaging for people other than patients. Thanks to this background, I possess anatomical knowledge of brain from the molecular level to the network level, and have skill in data processing and analysis by programming language. This background is very useful in my current research. Also, through my personal connections, I was invited to participate in cooperative research and received assistance in my research. Accordingly, I believe that researching at various laboratories was extremely worthwhile.

Research environment at the Research and Development Initiative, Chuo University

As I mentioned previously, I currently conduct research on neuropsychology for patients and functional neuroimaging for youth. I work under Professor Midorikawa, who specializes in psychology in the Faculty of Letters. I have experience in conducting research on young and elderly individuals other than patients. In Germany, I had opportunities for exposure to individualities arising from various cultural backgrounds, which were very different from Japanese. So, I make the most of these experiences in research which targets patients. Meanwhile, I realize that special considerations are sometimes required for conducting research targeting patients. Consequently, it reassures me that I could receive advices from Professor Midorikawa, who has extensive experience as a clinical psychologist. Moreover, while I conduct my research, graduate students in clinical psychology courses conduct screenings related to the treatment of patients. Their attitude of conducting screenings which match symptoms while also showing consideration towards patients is very helpful. Graduate students today are very capable because the expertise accumulated by previous students has been passed down. Even so, I am impressed at how much their speaking and communication skills have improved compared to when I was in graduate school. Sometimes, I have opportunities to participate in seminars for undergraduate students at the Midorikawa Laboratory. This experience has taught me that Professor Midorikawa values what can be learned from practical experiences. However, he doesn't allow students to blindly try new things; instead, he examines the characteristics of individual students and monitors their progress. This gives students the opportunity to acquire appropriate knowledge and skill through practice. In this research environment, it is easy for me to consult with Professor Midorikawa about what I would like to try, and to discuss my own research ideas, cooperative research to which I was invited, and research cases that were introduced to me. I am able to conduct my research relatively freely, despite the limitation of the scope of my research topic for which research funding has been allocated.

My future aspirations

Immediately after joining Chuo University, I began my research on time recognition in patients with brain tumors. However, I have just begun to achieve results because time is required to get enough data in research on patients. My immediate task is to ensure the success for each of these results in the form of academic papers. I am embarrassed to say that I have still not published some of my past research. Accordingly, for the time being, I want to focus on publishing large amounts of academic papers while also advancing my other research themes in order to produce stable results. Furthermore, for the good of my future career, I want to accumulate experience in education as well as research. At a different university, I hold the position of part-time instructor and conduct classes on neurology and physiological psychology. Initially, I had worried that the class material would be too difficult for undergraduate students. Now, I receive insightful comments and questions from my students, and I find teaching very enjoyable. In order to continue my research, I must work to become capable of supervising the research of undergraduate students and graduate students. I am very thankful that the Research and Development Initiative has given me the opportunity to take on this new career challenge. Including my experiences at Chuo University, I have been involved in humanities and scientific fields such as biology, medicine, and psychology. I have conducted research at national universities, private universities, and overseas research institutions. Moreover, at each organization, I have been blessed to work under the guidance of unique and outstanding research supervisors. I am certain that all of these experiences will be of benefit in my future career.

Yayoi Shigemune
Assistant Professor, Research and Development Initiative, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Neuropsychology, Cognitive Science, and Experimental Psychology

Yayoi Shigemune was born in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1980.
In 2004, she graduated from the School of Sciences, Kyushu University.
In 2006, she completed the Master’s Program in the Graduate School of Life Sciences, Tohoku University.
In 2009, she completed the Doctoral Program in the Graduate School of Medicine, Tohoku University.
She holds a PhD in disability sciences.
She served as a researcher in the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University, the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, the Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University, the Institute of Cognitive Neurology and Dementia Research, Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg and Chuo University Faculty of Letters before assuming her current position in 2018.
She currently conducts research on time recognition in patients with brain tumors, intrinsic motivation in patients with Parkinson’s diseases, and functional neuroimaging for competition of attentions caused by rewards.