Understanding the mechanisms by which genetic and prenatal environmental factors contribute to congenital disabilities and disease risks so that one day effective preventive interventions can be developed is the goal of Masako Suzuki, DVM, Ph.D.
Suzuki, who recently joined the Department of Nutrition in Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said she has always been interested in genetics and genomics. Her academic and research interests range from epigenetics, genetics and the developmental origins of health and disease to vitamins, vitamin deficiencies, hematopoiesis and hidden hunger.
“I started to have an interest in how a prenatal environment creates a long-term memory of the body associated with disease risks later in life during my Clinical Research Training Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine,” Suzuki said. “My main project then was epigenetic alterations of babies born to preeclamptic mothers. As my research progressed, I found that many of the mothers in my study had micronutrient deficiency conditions, so I began to study maternal nutritional status and future disease risk in the child.”
She said as part of this process, she discovered that genetic predisposition plays a major role in nutrient uptake and storage in the body.
“There are genetic variations within these genes among ethnic groups, which led me to my current research project, Gene x Environment,” she said.
Suzuki said she is glad to be a member of Texas A&M’s Department of Nutrition, which has “a rich heritage of leadership in nutrition.”
“This department has many world-known and cutting-edge scientists in the field,” she said. “The open-minded and welcoming nature of those in the department made me feel this is where I want to pursue my research career. I am proud to be a part of building a new history of the department and continuing to do my research in this amazing environment.
Suzuki said she hopes to contribute to the department through her research in prenatal nutrition and the developmental origin of health and disease, as well as to provide her expertise in genome-wide assay techniques and designs.
“In a broader sense, I hope to contribute by educating future generations and providing research results to build a foundation for developing preventive interventions to promote human health,” she said.
“Dr. Suzuki’s research focuses on prenatal vitamin and nutrient deficiencies and how that leads to adverse health consequences later in life,” said David Threadgill, Ph.D., head of the Department of Nutrition, Bryan-College Station.
Suzuki has worked on epigenome-wide studies in translational and basic sciences since her postdoctoral days at the University of Tokyo.
“I also put effort into developing genome-wide assays and have been involved in developing or optimizing more than 10 epigenetic assays so far,” she said. “My latest single-cell assay is currently under revision in a scientific journal. In addition, I consulted for an epigenetic study design for other researchers while I was a research-track faculty member at the Center for Epigenomics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.”
She said her main research focus on how maternal micronutrition affects children’s disease risks later in life has been supported by the National Institute of Health, and she hopes to keep pursuing that research at Texas A&M.
“My long-term goal as a researcher is to understand the mechanisms by which genetic and prenatal environmental factors contribute to congenital disabilities and disease risks so we may develop effective preventive interventions,” she said.
Education and academic career
Suzuki earned her master’s degree in clinical research methods from the Clinical Research Training Program of the Einstein/Montefiore Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Bronx, New York.
She earned her doctorate in veterinary sciences from the United Graduate School of Veterinary Sciences, Gifu University, Japan, and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Iwate University in Japan.
From 2002-2005, Suzuki was a post-doctoral Fellow in the Laboratory of Cellular Biochemistry, Veterinary Medical Sciences/Animal Resource Sciences at The University of Tokyo. From 2005-2008, she was a research associate in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
Beginning in 2008, Suzuki worked her way up from an associate in the Department of Genetics, Center for Epigenomics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine to an instructor and then a research assistant professor before becoming a tenure-track assistant professor in 2020. From 2021-2023 was associate director of the Neurogenomics Core at the Rose F. Kennedy Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at the college.
She continues to serve as an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
“We are excited to have Dr. Suzuki join Texas A&M,” Threadgill said. “She brings a wealth of expertise in prenatal nutrition needs, and as a trained veterinarian, brings a unique perspective to her research.”
Professional affiliations and awards
Suzuki is affiliated with a number of professional societies, beginning as a student member and later as a professional member of the Japanese Society of Veterinary Sciences. Her professional affiliations also include the Japanese Society for Epigenetics.
She has received several awards and prizes for her research, including the Sasagawa Science Research Grant Award from the Japan Science Society, the Mentored Clinical/Translational Research Career Development Award, the Scholar Abstract Award in Translational Science, the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund Travel Award, the Einstein-Montefiore Young Research Investigators Symposium Prize and the Mishima Kaiun Memorial Foundation Award.
Contributions to scientific publications
Suzuki has provided her scientific expertise as an associate scientific advisor for Science Translational Medicine — an interdisciplinary medical journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has also contributed editorials to Mutation Research-Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis, which provides a platform for publishing all aspects of DNA mutations and epimutations. Her further contributions to scientific publications include:
— Serving on the board of Elsevier, an academic publishing company specializing in scientific, technical and medical content.
— Guest editor, Frontiers Cell and Developmental Biology, a journal advancing understanding of the fundamental processes of life.
— Academic editor, Genes, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of genetics and genomics.
Other professional contributions
While at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Suzuki was a member of the National Advisory Mental Health Council Workgroup on High-Dimensional Datasets, a full-review committee member of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and the Institutional Ph.D. Admission Committee.
She has also been an ad hoc reviewer for the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme of Netherlands, Organization for Scientific Research; the Swiss National Science Foundation; the National Institutes of Health, genetics of health and disease study section; and the Rosetrees Trust. She has also provided peer reviews for articles in numerous scientific journals.