by Roya Naqvi
Akira Yoshida, Ph.D., distinguished City of Hope scientist and professor emeritus, passed away on Dec. 24, 2005. An internationally renowned and frequently published scientist, Yoshida's research in biochemistry and genetics yielded significant breakthroughs in the understanding of how mutations in certain enzymes affect human disease.
“Dr. Yoshida devoted his professional career to biochemistry and genetics and was always interested in understanding and applying new technologies to move research forward,” said Arthur D. Riggs, Ph.D., director, Beckman Research Institute.
Yoshida was born in 1924 and immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1961. He served as senior research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, a research scientist at the National Institutes of Health and a research professor at the University of Washington at Seattle prior to joining City of Hope.
He joined the institution in 1972 and served as director of the Department of Biochemical Genetics from 1981 to 1994. He was named professor emeritus in 1998.
Ernest Beutler, M.D., professor and chair, Department of Molecular & Experimental Medicine at the Scripps Research Institute and former chair of City of Hope's Division of Medicine, recruited Yoshida. He remembers Yoshida as an outstanding protein chemist – “a protein chemist’s protein chemist, with very interesting biological insights.” According to Beutler, Yoshida noted an interesting repeating structure in a certain protein and utilized it to devise proteins that might be very effective in binding metals. This finding led to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“He left a legacy of dedication and research focus on basic problems that translated into a better understanding of the genetic basis for disease,” said John Rossi, Ph.D., chair, Division of Molecular Biology. “Dr. Yoshida was a scientist that City of Hope should truly be proud to acknowledge as a resident of this institution.”
Yoshida was at the forefront of the structure-function relationships of mutant enzymes in which one or more amino acids is altered. He also made significant advances in biochemical genetics, combining the technologies of protein chemistry and genetics.
Yoshida’s work helped establish a cause-and-effect of alcohol intolerance in individuals harboring mutations in the gene for alcohol dehydrogenase. His research also focused on mutant forms of other enzymes in the glycolic pathway that could be linked to certain diseases or metabolic conditions.
His was one of 17 individuals honored as part of City of Hope’s Portrait Gallery of Research Scientists, which commemorates groundbreaking researchers. He received the Merit Award from the Japanese Society of Human Genetics, and in 1981 was honored with a merit grant from the National Institutes of Health. He also received an achievement award from City of Hope for distinguished advances in human genetics.
Yoshida spoke sparingly. When Beutler recruited Yoshida, he was told by a colleague that English was still a challenge for the esteemed scientist. Accordingly, he didn’t waste words. Beutler’s colleague advised him to listen carefully to everything he said, as every word had meaning. ”I found that to be true,” Beutler said. ”Akira’s profound thoughts were usually encapsulated in just a few words. One had to listen carefully, and it was always worthwhile.”