As a third-generation Hawaiian, USC Stem Cell researcher Justin Ichida, PhD, is equally comfortable with lu’aus and lead guitars as with laboratories.

Justin Ichida performs at UCLA in 1998.

Justin Ichida performs at UCLA in 1998. (Photo/Courtesy Justin Ichida)

As an assistant professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at USC, he dedicates his days to finding new ways to study and treat ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

As an undergraduate at UCLA, he served as president of the Hawai’i Club, or the Hui O ’Imiloa.

For the club’s signature lu’au, Ichida and his fellow officers cooked a pig in the traditional fashion and flew the feast to the UCLA campus.

“There’s just a special way that we wanted to cook it,” he said. “You use hot rocks, and then you bury that whole thing, and it just steams in there. And I just didn’t have any place that we could do it at UCLA in my apartment. So we actually cooked a huge meal in Hawai’i, flew it up and catered it.”

Ichida, who started hula lessons in middle school, also danced in shows at UCLA and throughout Los Angeles.

Since then, Ichida has lent his stage presence to new acts. As a genetics PhD candidate at Harvard Medical School, he played guitar in rock bands including Maniatis, named after a famous molecular biologist, and Holding Room, which once performed at New York’s legendary CBGB club.

“I need to find some people to play with, you know,” Ichida said. “I can play by myself, but it’s not the same.”

— Cristy Lytal