Ryo Higuchi-Sanabria

Leonard Davis School of Gerontology

University of Southern California

Ryo Higuchi-Sanabria

My experience is considerably different from the typical researcher – I come from a background in restaurant and retail management, having worked as an assistant store manager, general store manager, and district manager in well-known companies including Burger King and Starbucks, as well as independent restaurants like Menchanko-Tei for the first 10+ years of my professional life. Having come from a disadvantaged background, I hold immense value in these seemingly disconnected experiences that provide the complex ability to multi-task and time management, which are instrumental in a scientific career.

I completed my BA and MA degree in Biotechnology at Hunter College, working with Dr. Paul Feinstein in characterization of odorant receptors in mouse olfactory neurons. Subsequently, I completed my Ph.D. at Columbia University with Dr. Liza Pon working on identification of novel actin-mitochondrial interactions in regulation of cellular health and lifespan and developing novel tools to measure organelle health in the yeast model organism, S. cerevisiae. Throughout my research career, I also invested my time in developing my pedagogy, working as a teaching assistant and adjunct professor at several high schools, Kaplan, Hunter College, Columbia University, and College of Mount Saint Vincent.

As a postdoc in the Dillin lab, I focused on understanding how organisms respond to stress and how their responses serve to protect organismal health and healthy aging. Specifically, I worked on how compartment specific stress responses that protect the endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, and cytosol can impact the aging process. Currently, the Sanabria lab is particularly interested in understanding how and why stress response pathways breakdown during the aging process – for example, an 18-year-old exposed to desert heat would be uncomfortable, but would likely survive, while exposing a 90-year old to the same level of heat stress could be catastrophic or deadly. We study how hijacking cellular stress responses could be used as a tool to slow down the aging process – that is, if we give the 90-year old an 18-year old’s capacity to deal with heat stress, would they be much healthier overall?

Our research focuses on three major fields: (I) regulation of actin, the “skeleton” of the cell; (II) quality control machineries of the endoplasmic reticulum, the “factory” of the cell; and (III) metabolism and health of the mitochondria, the “power house” of the cell. Specifically, I am interested in how the stress responses dedicated to protecting these distinct organelles deteriorate during the aging process, the potential to hijack the function of these stress responses to promote lifespan, and studying the overlap and cross-communication of these stress responses.

The Sanabria lab also puts diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront. I directly participate and promote programs dedicated to increasing all types of diversity (women, LGBTQ+, underrepresented minorities, socioeconomic minorities, those combating medical ailments, etc.) in STEM. These include the NIH B2B program and CHORI summer research programs, as well as my own personal movements to accomplish these goals. As a proud nonbinary, queer Asian, I am dedicated to obliterating any barriers and discrimination that exists in academia and ensuring that all people, regardless of background, can feel a sense of belonging and achieve success in science and education.