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Promotion of research from a broad perspective to take a next step forward (3) -All 3 episodes-

Prof. Makoto Asashima

"Do science" from a broad perspective

Prof. Makoto Asashima

Interviewer :
Do you have any advice to the part which funds research activities?

Asashima :
For promotion of science, it is important to have national policies and strategies, where it is necessary to take into consideration not only a specific research area but also its neighboring areas in order to have a broad spectrum of research activities.
While iPS cells are a very important field of research first developed in Japan, it is important to build a system in which specialists of not only iPS cells but also ES cells and somatic stem cells join and share information with each other.

Important is to understand what is to "do science". To do science, to understand iPS cells, it is important to understand the mechanisms of reprogramming and dedifferentiation from a broad perspective.
It is important to promote research in neighboring areas to get a research output.
It has been highly appreciated that a scientist devotes himself to research in a same area during his whole scientific career, and I think we have to keep this way of thinking. On the other hand, it is also necessary that young scientists have a cross-disciplinary perspective. So it will be better that specialists of iPS cells work in collaboration with specialists in other fields including engineering and humanities.

The MEXT published a road map for the realization of regenerative medicine. The map plays an important and significant role in that it gives an incentive to scientists and is accountable to the public for the contribution of iPS cell research to treatments of diseases.
However, we do not know what obstacles we may encounter in the process of research. If researchers are obliged to follow a roadmap, they will feel burdened when they fail to accomplish the goal on the map.

Prof. Makoto Asashima

I think all researchers are doing their best. If we respect their autonomy, we have to provide them with a road map as a challenge.
Science becomes narrowed if scientists self-regulate their research to meet other people's expectations. There are many cases in which scientists make a breakthrough different from one expected.

The Ministry says that it has established an all-Japan system for iPS cell research. It is important to have a wider system covering not only the designated research centers but also many other institutions, where young scientists are encouraged to work actively, and to build up an environment to support the system. When we think about the development of science, we have to keep in mind that it is necessary not only to complete a discovery, but also to prepare the "ground" for young scientists to take a next step. An accumulation does not always lead to an innovation.

When Professor Osamu Shimomura first discovered GFP (green fluorescent protein), he had no idea of its application.
I am surprised that there was some one who had first an idea of using this protein for practical purposes, and the idea leaded to its use for visualization of biomolecules.
Once a door is opened, things are carried forward rapidly.

After the years of ES cell studies, iPS cells come as a large breakthrough, as these cells, unlike ES cells, have no risk of immune rejection and ethical problems.
iPS cells are a great discovery, and in order to further develop iPS cell research, I think it is important to have ideas of how we translate research findings into practical applications, what goals we set, and what we have to do right now.


Interviewed by Miwako Honma (supervisor of iPS Trend website), Katsuaki Sato,Yuki Konagaya(Japan Science Technology Agency)
Published on 15 February, 2010

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Prof. Makoto Asashima

Professor Emeritus, Former Vice President, member of the Board of Directors, and Research Professor of the University of Tokyo
Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Research and Development Strategy, Japan Science and Technology Agency
Chief of Organ Development Research Laboratory, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology

1972 : Graduated from the Doctoral Course of the School of Science, the University of Tokyo (Received a doctorate in science)
Researcher at Institut fur Chemie und Biochemie, Freie Universitat Berlin Associate Professor and Professor at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Yokohama City University
1993 : Professor at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo
1996 : Professor at the Department of Language and Information Sciences, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo
2003 : Director of the Department of Language and Information Sciences/Director of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo
2005 : Vice President of the Science Council of Japan
From 2007 to March 2008 : President and Vice Principal of the University of Tokyo

President of the Japanese Society of Developmental Biologists
President of the Zoological Society of Japan
President of the Molecular Biology Society of Japan
President of the Japanese Society for Biological Sciences in Space
Steering Committee and Council Member of the Japan Society for Cell Biology
Steering Committee Member of the International Society of Developmental Biologists
Board Member of the Japanese Society for Tissue Engineering
Board Member of the Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine
Board Member of the Japanese Society of Inflammation and Regeneration
Member of the New York Academy of Sciences
Editorial Board Member of journals : "Development, Growth & Differentiation", "Zoological Science", and "Cell Structure and Function"
Vice Editorial Chief of the "International Journal of Developmental Biology"

He specializes in developmental biology, and has been and is working on organogenesis (from an egg to larva), cell growth and differentiation. He identified activin, a mesoderm-inducing factor, in 1988 for the first time in the world, and contributed to establishing a system of inducing organs.

Awards :
1990 : The Prize of the Zoological Society of Japan
1990 : Inoue Prize for Science
1990 : Man of the Year (USA, ABI)
1994 : Kihara Memorial Yokohama Foundation for the Advancement of Life Sciences
1994 : Philipp Franz von Siebold-Preis (German Government)
1999 : Toray Science and Technology Prize
2000 : Academic Award for Medical and Pharmaceutical Research of the Mochida Memorial Foundation
2000 : The Naito Foundation Merit Award for Advancement of Science
2000 : Professor Kei Arima Memorial Award of the Japan Bioindustry Association
2001 : Uehara Prize
2001 : The Medal with Purple Ribbon
2001 : Imperial Award of the Japan Academy
2002 : The Medal of the Prince Hitachi Prize for Comparative Oncology
2008 : Erwin-Stein-Preis
2008 : Person of Cultural Merit

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