Yuki Oka, an assistant professor of biology, has been named a 2015 Searle Scholar. The Searle Scholars Program provides grants to young faculty to support research in the biomedical sciences and chemistry. Fifteen scholars are named annually, each receiving $100,000 per year for three years.
"I'm very excited and honored by this award," says Oka, who studies how the brain compiles both internal and external sensory information in order to maintain homeostasis, or internal stability of the body. In particular, Oka's group studies how the brain controls the feeling of thirst, and how that feeling drives us to drink water. There are multiple processes involved in regulating thirst in the brain.
"Our research group aims to understand how these thirst signals are processed in the brain and how they ultimately drive specific behavioral outputs," Oka says. "We recently identified two distinct neural populations controlling drinking behavior in two opposite directions: driving and suppressing thirst." By manipulating these neural populations in animals, the group found that it could artificially create or suppress the desire to drink water.
Before joining the faculty at Caltech, Oka was a postdoctoral scholar at Columbia University. He received his PhD from the University of Tokyo. He is the 18th current Caltech faculty member to be named a Searle Scholar.