Masaaki Hamaguchi, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Fordham.
Masaaki Hamaguchi's classes are popular. One of them has an unheard-of 100 percent attendance rate. A colleague credits him with the kind of thorough knowledge of his subject matter that makes it easy for him to explain it to anyone in clear, lucid terms.
That subject? Cancer research, and the inner workings of tumor cells.
It is a complex topic, but one that he enjoys teaching. After all, he and his team of researchers are closing in on a potentially groundbreaking discovery that could lead to new treatments for breast cancer. He has been pursuing it for years, pushing his skills to the edge but also gaining a sense of their limitations.
"Of course you need to be good, but you have to have some luck, too," said Hamaguchi, Ph.D., an associate professor of biological science at Fordham.
His academic career sprouted from unlikely beginnings. He grew up in rural Japan, in a town without much more than a fishery and a few small farms. He was a marginal student until the seventh grade, when his father sent him to a boarding school where he had to apply himself in earnest.
He would later work for nearly a decade as a resident and surgeon in some of Japan's major hospitals and teach for seven years at the Watson School of Biological Sciences, honing the communication skills he would apply as a Fordham instructor.
It was in 2002, while working at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., that he and his fellow researchers made a breakthrough. They discovered that breast cancer tumors were missing a gene that, when restored, stopped the tumors from growing.
He moved his research effort to the Rose Hill campus of Fordham, where he and his researchers are meticulously working to devise a treatment based on this gene.
For Hamaguchi, cancer research is a balancing act. He has to forge ahead with hope while guarding against any undue sense of optimism that would hurt his scientific detachment.
"We have promising data, but as a scientist, I have to be a pessimist," he says. "My mentor used to tell me, 'You have to be as pessimistic as possible without being depressed. Then you have to test every unlikely possibility.'"