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Promising use of laser technology for cancer detection earns Oda Crown Prince Akihito scholarship

January 5, 2018
  • Robert Oda

“I love puzzles, and research is a giant puzzle,” said Robert Oda.

When he was a third grader attending Mililani Mauka Elementary, Robert Oda could never have guessed he would someday be awarded a scholarship linked to royalty.

Oda, who later graduated from Punahou School and McGill University in Montreal, Canada, is a graduate student now at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (UHM). He recently was awarded the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship, for his promising research in the medical application of a type of laser technology called Raman spectroscopy.

The Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship was established in 1959 to commemorate the wedding of then Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko. When Akihito ascended to the throne in 1989 to become emperor, the name was retained, according to his wishes. Very few scholarships hold the imperial name. Today the scholarship is run by the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation (CPASF) to promote better understanding between Japan and Hawaiʻi. It is awarded to one graduate student from Hawaiʻi and one graduate student from Japan each year.

Oda, a native of Mililani, lives in Mānoa now. He is doing his graduate work in Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering. Oda is using a laser microscope developed by Dr. Anupam Misra of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. At the John A. Burns School of Medicine, Oda’s research is supervised by Bruce Shiramizu, MD, of the Hawaiʻi Center for AIDS and the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology.

“My research interest is in using Raman spectroscopy to potentially identify markers of cancer in cells and tissue based on their molecular ‘fingerprint’,” said Oda. “If successful, the research provides a potential avenue to diagnose and identify cancers in patients earlier and could be adapted for use inside a surgery room,” he said.

The Akihito scholarship will allow Oda to work with Professor Yasuyuki Ozeki at the University of Tokyo. Oda expects he might undertake that work this coming August.

Oda, who hopes to become a professor in his field, says he loves to teach. He loves to make sense of complicated problems, too.

“I love puzzles, and research is a giant puzzle,” said Oda. “There are a million questions to answer, but I get excited knowing that I can potentially answer one of them.”

Story by: Tina Shelton, JABSOM

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