Randall R. Sakai, Ph.D.
Dr. Randall R. Sakai passed away at his home in Hawaii on September 28th, 2015 after a prolonged illness. A native of Kaneohe, Hawaii, Dr. Sakai graduated from John B. Castle High School in 1977 and then went to on to receive his B.A. in 1982 in Zoology from the University of Washington and his Ph.D. in 1988 in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania. After completing postdoctoral work at The Rockefeller University, Dr. Sakai returned to the University of Pennsylvania as an Assistant Professor in 1992. Dr. Sakai joined the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati in 1999, ultimately achieving the rank of Professor.
Dr. Sakai’s main research program focused on the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms through which adrenal steroids regulate behavior. His early studies examined the central interactions of the adrenal steroid aldosterone and the peptide hormone angiotensin II in the regulation of salt appetite. These seminal observations established that aldosterone and angiotensin II work synergistically in the brain to drive sodium consumption. In these studies, Dr. Sakai was one of the pioneers in the use of antisense oligonucleotides to manipulate gene expression as a means to reveal their influence on motivated behaviors. Subsequent studies from Dr. Sakai examined the activities of the adrenal steroid corticosterone in the central nervous system. This initiated a research program that would direct Dr. Sakai’s studies for the remainder of his career. This included evaluation of the effects of social hierarchy stress upon neuroplasticity in the central nervous system. Coming full circle, Dr. Sakai’s studies also examined the bidirectional relationship between stress and ingestive behaviors and obesity. Dr. Sakai published over 100 manuscripts, reviews and book chapters and his research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (previously known as National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD)). In recognition of his research achievements, Dr. Sakai was awarded the inaugural Alan N. Epstein Research Award in 2002 by the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB). This award honors an early stage investigator that made a specific discovery that advanced the understanding of ingestive behavior and bears the name of Dr. Sakai’s graduate mentor.
Beyond his research portfolio, Dr. Sakai made substantial service contributions to the scientific community. He served on several study sections for the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, including serving as the Chairperson of Neurobiology of Motivated Behavior study section from 2005 to 2009. Dr. Sakai served on numerous journal editorial boards, including serving as the Editor-In-Chief of the journal Physiology & Behavior from 2008 to 2014. As an active member of the SSIB since its inception, Dr. Sakai provided invaluable service to the society, having served on the Board of Directors (1999-2002), as the Director of Nominations (2001-2003) and as the local organizer for the 2004 SSIB annual conference in Cincinnati, OH.
Undoubtedly, Dr. Sakai’s greatest contribution to the scientific community was his tireless efforts to promote the work of his colleagues, especially students, fellows and junior faculty members. It was commonplace to see Dr. Sakai introducing these junior colleagues to the well-established investigators of the field and interacting with them, always providing constructive scientific advice along with many laughs. His generosity, in regards to the time and opportunities he provided to his own trainees as well as those not directly associated with his lab or university, was extraordinary and extended beyond their professional lives. Dr. Sakai’s altruism and pay-it forward approach to science and life will be perpetuated across future generations of investigators through the many young scientists whose lives he touched.
Written by: Tim Moran