The Keio University School of Medicine is focused on people--how to best engage them as well as everything that comes out of that engagement. The aim is to create a comprehensive bench-to-bedside learning environment that accumulates vast knowledge of the human body and disease through a wide range of experiments, ultimately channeling that knowledge into research that will help eradicate disease--and people are the key.
To truly understand disease you have to understand people as biological organisms. To do this, it is essential to both address the social issues that surround us and to collaborate across various disciplines, while at the same time, carry out research that focuses more and more on the cellular and genomic level.
The research at my lab, commonly referred to as Okano Lab1, has continually examined the development and regeneration of the central nervous system.
Though we have a wide range of research interests--including pathology, drug discovery, primate neuroscience, and regenerative medicine using iPS cells--we are consistently focusing our efforts on central nervous system development and regeneration. Through pathology research and regenerative treatments for spinal cord injuries using iPS cells, for example, we aim to evolve the field of basic research. And while iPS cells also currently receive coverage in a variety of media outside of medical care, the research we are pursuing covers not only iPS cells, but the wider field of central nervous system development and regeneration.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that reaching this point has been nothing but an endless succession of medical challenges.
When we started our research on the central nervous system in the early 1980s, molecular biology rose to prominence and gained momentum as many researchers thought that by investigating genes we would be able to understand all of the mysteries of life. We continued our research on cancer and immunology, but the nervous system proved to be much more mysterious territory than we had imagined, and it seemed little progress would be made. That could be why we didn’t make much progress in terms of molecular-biological research.
It was then that I had the idea to try and understand the structure of the nervous system by using molecular biology research techniques. That was when I first considered investigating cell development and regeneration, initially focusing my research on nervous system development.
After graduating from university in 1983, I spent 15 years solely focused on basic research into nerve cell development. During that time I came to understand many things that would later inform my research into regenerative medicine, which began in earnest around 1998.
I returned to Keio in 2001 and continue to do research that aligns with Keio Medicine’s guiding principle that basic medical research and clinical medicine go hand in hand in the development of medical science.
Let’s look at the field of regenerative medicine. We are gradually moving toward using animal testing to determine how useful certain tools that have been discovered through embryology will be in regenerative medicine research. Using animal models to understand things like spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, and strokes has also started to interest clinical doctors as well. So we are now able to have very close-knit collaborations with those doctors who are serious about regenerative medicine. You could say that we are starting to reach the clinical application stage.
Last year we became the first in the world to undertake a clinical study in which we administered regenerative spinal cord treatments using HGF neurotrophic factors, and have since treated dozens of patients. We are currently preparing to make regenerative spinal cord treatments using iPS cells available by 2017 or 2018.
In today’s society, it is important to realize that it is not only doctors who are advancing medical science. Today’s basic research carries strong implications of human biology in its broadest sense. This must be first understood in order to truly understand disease.
Although recent research tends to be focused on practical application, I believe it is essential to conduct research with the mindset that humans are biological organisms.
Now that the genome has been sequenced and we have created reprogrammable iPS cells, gene manipulation will soon be in reach. This means that any cell can be broken down to form any other kind of cell, and we have already been able to acquire various kinds of manipulated genes through the use of genome editing and iPS techniques. The possibilities for conducting previously unimaginable research and then applying that knowledge to practical applications such as dementia and anti-aging treatments are rapidly expanding.
Currently, a large number of exceptional researchers from around the world are gathered at Keio University Graduate School of Medicine. A good number of those researchers are from non-medical backgrounds and are working to solve a wide range of issues. A concentration of expertise--knowledge of molecular biology’s physical elements, scientific and technological elements, and an understanding of pharmacology, among other things--is essential for current research. Actually, we currently have many researchers from Keio’s Faculty of Science and Technology and Faculty of Pharmacy, as well as researchers from other universities, all working in our labs.
Despite the far-ranging reach of our research, it remains focused on medical science and medical treatments. Simply put, you don’t need to have graduated from Keio in order to do research here, and in fact, almost half of the people at Okano Lab are not even doctors. We are more interested in accumulating knowledge from various fields and opening new doors in medical science, which is part of the tradition of Keio Medicine. We are becoming a hub for medical research that other disciplines can link up to.
In medicine, doctors must collaborate--not just with each other but with experts from multiple fields--in order to truly understand the human body. This is evident in illnesses such as dementia that have numerous societal and economic impacts. Accordingly, we must consider the effects that techniques such as iPS cells may have on the economy in addition to clinical research.
At Keio University, we are currently engaged in transdisciplinary, internationally-oriented research and education reforms focused on three initiatives that unite the liberal arts and sciences: Longevity, Security, and Creativity. We believe that medical science is a driving force behind this pursuit, and its importance will continue to increase in the future. Our research, which is one instance of this transdisciplinary approach, deals not only with the various issues facing Japan, but the many challenges facing the whole world.
Keio’s Mita-kai alumni association has members spread across a wide range of professions and locations throughout the world.The Mita-kai of Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) just recently gave a lecture on the economic implications of iPS cells as well. Though the relationship between medicine and commerce may seem distant, collaboration is indispensable when thinking about contemporary social issues, and we at Keio University are ready to lead the way.
|1983||M.D., Keio University School of Medicine|
|1983||Instructor, Department of Physiology, Keio University School of Medicine|
|1985||Instructor, Institute for Protein Research, Osaka University|
|1988||Ph.D. (Dr. of Medical Science), Keio University|
|1989||Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Biological Chemistry, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine|
|1992||Instructor, Department of Molecular Neurobiology, Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo|
|1994||Professor, Department of Molecular Neurobiology, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Tsukuba|
|1997||Professor, Division of Neuroanatomy, Department of Neuroscience, Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine|
|2001||Professor, Department of Physiology, Keio University School of Medicine|
|2003||Program Leader, Keio University 21st Century COE Program “Basic Study and Clinical Application of Human Stem Cell Biology and Immunology”|
|2009||Dean, Graduate School of Medicine, Keio University|
|2008||Program Leader, Keio University Global COE Program “Education and Research Center for Stem Cell Medicine”|
|2015||Dean, School of Medicine, Keio University|
Development and regeneration of central nervous system
|1988||Sanshikai Award (from Sanshikai, Keio University School of Medicine)|
|1995||Yoshihiro Kato Memorial Award (from Yoshihiro Kato Memorial Foundation)|
|1998||Kitasato Award (from Sanshikai, Keio University School of Medicine)|
|2001||Naka-akira Tsukahara Award (from Brain Science Foundation)|
|2004||Gold Medal, Tokyo Techno-Forum 21 Award (from Tokyo Techno Forum 21)|
|2004||Medical Award of The Japan Medical Association (from The Japan Medical Association)|
|2004||Distinguished Scientist Award (from University of Catania School of Pharmacy)|
|2006||Minister Award of Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology|
|2007||Lead Reviewer Award (from Stem Cells)|
|2008||Inoue Prize for Science (from Inoue Foundation for Science)|
|2009||A Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon|
|2011||The Johnson & Johnson Innovation Award|
|2014||Erwin von Bälz Award (from Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH)|