Dr. Akira E. Takemori

A Tribute to Dr. Akira E. Takemori (1929-1998)


Members of the INRC were shocked by the untimely death of Akira Takemori on March 12, 1998 while battling with cancer. His passing was particularly tragic because he had only recently retired from his position as Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Minnesota and had been planning numerous activities for his retirement years. Through his pioneering work with opioid receptor antagonists, he had made lasting contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms of opioid action.

Dr. Takemori was born in Stockton, CA and received his B.A. degree in Physiology from the University of California -Berkley. He then earned the M.S. degree in Comparative Pharmacology and Toxicology from the Universtiy of California Medical Center in San Francisco. Later, he moved to Wisconsin and earned his Ph.D. degree in Pharmacology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1958, working with Dr. Gilbert Mannering. Dr. Takemori stayed in Madison for his postdoctoral studies at the Institute for Enzyme Research in the laboratory of Dr. Henry Lardy.

Dr. Takemori's first academic appointment was at the State University of New York, Upatate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York, where he was an Instructor, then an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology. In 1963, he joined the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Minnesota where he was promoted to Professor in 1969. He remained in this Department until his retirement in 1994. During this time, he was also a Visiting Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology at Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, Japan (March-September 1971) and at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco (June 1973).

During his tenure at the University of Minnesota Dr. Takemori trained eighteen Ph.D. graduate students and twenty post-doctoral fellows as well as providing a research environment for six visiting scientists. Those who trained in his laboratory have continued their successful scientific careers in academic as well as industrial positions in the United States and around the world. Dr. Takemori also served as the Department of Pharmacology Director of Graduate Studies from 1987 until his retirement, when two faculty members were then required to fill this position. His committment to education of young scientists was also shown by his service on numerous graduate education committees at the University as well as by serving as Program Director for the Medical School Minority High School Student Research Apprentice Program. He also received teaching awards including Teacher of the Year Award from the University of Minnesota Dental School.

On the national/international scene, Dr. Takemori was active in a number of professional societies, including the INRC and the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) He served on the Executive Committee of INRC from 1973-1974 and from 1979-1982. He was also the INRC Program Chairman for the 1982 INCR meeting. His major contributions to ASPET included serving as President (1992), Councillor (1978-1981) and IUPHAR Delegate (1991-1995). He also served on numerous ASPET committees including the Program Committee and the Committee for Graduate Recruitment in Pharmacology among others. He was on editorial boards for several journals including the Journal for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and the Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology. In addition, he was a member of Study Sections for the National Insititues of Health (Pharmacology Section), the National Insititues on Drug Abuse and the National Science Foundation. He also was a scientific consultant for other academic and industrial organizations in the United States and other countries.

Of particular importance to the INRC are Dr. Takemori's numerous contributions to our understanding of opioid actions. His first publication on opioids was a Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics paper on metabolic demethylation of morphine and morphinan-type analgesics in 1958. Some of his more 200 publications (manuscripts, reviews and book chapters) on opioids resulted from his work with Dr. Philip Portoghese, a collaboration that produced the irreversible µ-selective opioid receptor antagonist beta-funaltrexamine (b-FNA). Use of b-FNA as well as other opioid receptor subtype-selective antagonists characterized by Dr. Takemori, has greatly advanced the study of opioids and these drugs are widely used today in opioid research. For his many scientific contributions, he received the Nathan B. Eddy Award in 1991 from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD).

Even though he was a very productive scientist, Arky (a nickname used by his friends) found time to participate in and excel in multiple sports, including golf, handball, skiing, judo and tennis. For many years, he and his lifelong colleague and friend Dr. James Fujimoto competed annually for a golf trophy. He would regularly challenge his graduate students to a game of handball - and win. He also found time to coach baseball and manage his son's ice hockey league.

After he retired from the University, Dr. Takemori moved to California and began a new life, finally having enough time to devote to his many non-academic interests. Even then, he could be available to provide advice and support when necessary. His loss leaves a large void in the community of scientific thought. But most of all, we will miss Arky for his spirit. He was often the life of the party, able to entertain his friends with many humerous stories. Even though he was a well-known, busy scientist, he always had time to speak with and encourage his students and junior colleagues. He served as an excellent role model and mentor. We trusted his counsel. He will live on in our collective memories, fondly and respectfully.

Sandra Roerig, Ph.D.
Department of Pharmacology
Lousiana State University
Shreveport, LA.

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