As our concepts about the synthesis and structure of melanins and their functions have evolved in recent decades, Prof. Shosuke Ito has played a major role coordinating the efforts of laboratories around the world to achieve that progress. After receiving his Ph.D. from Nagoya University in 1972, he began his career with a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Texas, travelling there with his wife, Mieko. He studied pigmentation in the eyes of catfish and identified oligomers of a new type of intermediate, which we now know as DHICA, a precursor of eumelanin, and later, in the eyes of garfish, he identified the major component as a type of dicysteinyl DOPA, a precursor of pheomelanin. That background prompted his transition to a post-doctoral fellowship at the Stazione Zoologica in Naples, Italy to work with Prof. Giuseppe Prota whom he had just met at an IPCC held in Houston, Texas by sheer coincidence that year. This unique sequence of events provided Prof. Ito with the diverse background and international connections that have served him and his research so well over the years following his return to Japan.
After studying abroad in the USA and then in Italy, he obtained the position of Chief Researcher at the Institute of Pharmacognosy, Fujita-Gakuen University, in 1977, and 8 years later, he was promoted to Professor. As he must educate all students, he employed Dr Kazu Wakamatsu as an Assistant Professor in his Department and since then they have worked together closely to coordinate their education and research efforts. After a while, Prof. Ito was appointed to a position to manage the School of Health Sciences, Fujita Health University, and he became a Dean of the University in 2005. He was always very busy educating students about research on melanin chemistry. He asked students to call him ‘Shosuke Sensei’ and he was eager to educate them. In his laboratory, he would first show students a profile of an experiment at the beginning and then he would carry out the experiment smoothly. He made it his motto not to take credit for another person’s results, a teaching he had learned from Prof. Prota in Naples. He was also very good at interpreting experimental results critically, and when he relayed the results of melanin analyses to his collaborators, he reported not only those results but also his insightful comments. He always says that researchers need to be closely attached to their studies.
Prof. Ito (with Prof. Wakamatsu) entered an extensive series of collaborations with diverse research groups in Japan, in the US and in Europe. Together, they developed a series of highly sensitive and specific chemical assays for various melanin intermediates that allowed the structures of unknown melanins from many species to be determined. Those collaborations were extremely successful and prolific and have resulted in a large number of important publications, many of them in major journals.
Prof. Ito’s impact on science went far beyond his collaboration and extensive knowledge of melanin chemistry, and he also had a tremendous influence on the growth of research on pigmentation due to his activities in the political and editorial arenas as well. In recent years, he served as President to guide the International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies, as Organizer of an Annual Meeting of the JSPCR and also of an International Pigment Cell Conference, and he has served on the Editorial Board and as an Executive Editor of our journal, Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research. Any one of those activities would have had a dramatic effect on research in the field, but to have done all of them so well is simply remarkable. Perhaps the most important aspect of Prof. Ito’s career is that he managed all these accomplishments while retaining the most pleasant and interesting yet strong character. He has made a significant impact on most of us in the field and has synergized our research efforts.
Sho and Mieko had two children, a son and a daughter. They each married in turn and he now has two granddaughters. When he talks about his granddaughters, he looks extremely happy. Prof. Ito retired from Fujita Health University in March, 2010, but he continues to educate students and perform research there as an Emeritus Professor.