Atsushi Nakano, MD, PhD

Atsushi Nakano, MD, PhD 

Associate Professor


Atsushi (Austin) Nakano, MD, PhD, focuses his research on understanding the development of the heart in the embryo from a stem cell perspective and uncovering the fundamental mechanism of heart formation. The heart is the first organ to develop in the embryo and the only one that must operate while it’s still forming, a process that could answer interesting questions about development.

Key issues Dr. Nakano’s lab would like to address include how the commitment and diversification of cardiac cells is regulated at each level of the heart’s development in the embryo and how plastic the heart cells are and what biological significance that plasticity might be during cardiac development and if it plays a role in disease development. He also will focus on what molecular mechanisms makes adult heart cells terminally differentiated and unable to divide.

Dr. Nakano came to stem cell research with the hopes of finding new and more effective therapies to treat heart disease. Despite the advancement of medical and surgical methods, only a few are proven to improve prognosis in patients with heart diseases, still one of the leading causes of death. After years of treating patients, Dr. Nakano realized the vital need to develop novel therapeutic approaches and understanding the biological basis to do that. He hopes his research will someday contribute to the better understanding and treatment of the heart, which is the least regenerative organ in the body.

In addition to being a member of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center, Dr. Nakano is affiliated with the International Society for Stem Cell Research and the American Heart Association.

An assistant professor of molecular, cell and development biology in the life sciences, Dr. Nakano joined the UCLA faculty in 2008 from the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Stem Cell Institute. He earned his doctorate and medical degrees from Kyoto University in Japan.

Dr. Nakano’s work is funded by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health.


Haemogenic endocardium contributes to transient definitive haematopoiesis
Published March 5, 2013 - Nature Communications

Cardiac Origin of Smooth Muscle Cells in the Inflow Tract
February 2011 - Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, Volume 50, Issue 2, Pages 337-345