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CREST Research Supervisor Dr. Toshio Suda talks about iPS cell research and what will come next (4) -All 4 episodes-

Dr. Toshio Suda

General newspapers are not covering important matters

Interviewer :
It seems that the mass media want to take up topics on iPS cell studies and regenerative medicine. What do you think about science journalism?

Dr. Toshio Suda

Suda :
I find some problems in science journalism today.
When Dr. Yamanaka said, "Japan has one win and 10 losses in IPS cell research", many journalists took up this easy-to-understand expression, which then appeared the next day in many newspapers.
However, Japan has lost in 10 studies derived from Dr. Yamanaka's, and the 1 win means a lot.
For the project CREST, my idea is that it serves to build a foundation on which Japanese scientists will be playing a leading role in germ cell or epigenetics research in the world, although studies of CREST may not be completely visible yet.

It seems to me that there are many articles like "iPS cells are generated using four Yamanaka factors, then with three factors, one factor, and finally, only with proteins", that encourage competition, and not many articles like "Safe iPS cells are necessary for regenerative medicine", that raise a question.
When Dr. Yamanaka says "1 win and 10 losses", journalists take up the comment in a sensational manner without reviewing what it means.
When I say, "epigenetics and the mechanisms of germ cells are important after Dr. Yamanaka", they do not take it up, saying that "Nobody will read it in a newspaper ".
General newspapers in eight or nine million circulations have the general public as their readers, and they have to explain words like "nucleus" or "cytoplasm", but it is difficult to do it because the space is limited, and they think nobody will read an article if it is difficult to understand.

Today, we get many pieces of information through the Internet.
It is possible on the Internet to provide different pieces of information to different target readers, such as "researchers in neighboring fields", "students majoring in natural sciences" and "interested persons", and in this case journalists will write more interesting articles.
Readers are multilayered, and journalism had better have different ways of communication.
We have to note that there are problems of reliability in providing information through the Internet. I hope they make efforts to give "reliable news" in a systematic manner.

Interviewer :
We have been running the website iPS Trend in a manner in which we chose reliable pieces of information from among an enormous number of news talking about iPS cell research, and go into details when we take up an important news.
As a member of the scientists community, what do you think about this website ?

Suda :
Scientists working in the field of iPS cell research seem to be able to get information from scientific journals and meetings.
It is important for iPS Trend to serve as a mediator between scientists in this field and those who are around them, for example, physicists, chemists, students, and patients, and provide necessary pieces of information for the latter group of people.

Interviewer :
American websites seem to have rich contents including both basics and cutting-edge studies described in an intelligible manner.

Absence of science communicators in Japan

Dr. Toshio Suda

Suda :
Science communicators are to serve as mediators between scientists and the general public, and communicate information between them.
Douglas Starr was a journalist when he wrote "BLOOD : An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce", and in this book he described a history of blood transfusion, a story about discovery of blood types, and problems with HIV and hepatitis viruses in an intelligible manner for the general public.
In contrast, there are very few science journalists in Japan, and this is what is absolutely different from the situation in USA.
In Japan, science communicators who mediate between scientists and citizens are absent. Primarily scientists should come closer to citizens.

Interviewer :
MEXT once proposed an idea that there would be a career path for post-doctoral scientists to work as science communicators.

Suda :
MEXT said that there would be a professional option for post-doctoral scientists to work as science writers. However, even if some students want to be a science writer, there is no system to employ such persons in Japan. In Japan, scientific publications do not sell well.
Japan will be required to promote science and technology communication. Many people say that they need science writers with PhD degrees, but nobody supports them. Consequently, it is mass media that set the level of science.
Mass media are limiting our science. If scientists tend to choose study subjects that seem to be appealing to mass media, science will fall into a negative spiral.
I hope that public organizations like JST will give a training program and support for science writers so that they will promote public relations for basic research in Japan, and if possible also in other Asian countries.

My present activities depend on experience of working in a hospital and at the university

Interviewer :
By the way, you worked as a clinician before being involved in studying hemopoietic stem cells.

Suda :
After graduating from Yokohama City University, I worked at Kanagawa Children's Medical Center, where I was dealing with children with blood diseases. Then, I moved to Jichi Medical University, where I was conducting studies of experimental hematology while involved in clinical practice.
The Children's Medical Center is a good system in which doctors see patients, but it has no setting for research. When I moved to Jichi Medical University, I saw physicians make experiments in the laboratory late at night after clinical work and found an atmosphere favorable for research. After that, I went to the US and had an opportunity of being involved in hemopoietic stem cell research.
I mentioned the symposium on hypoxia. In this symposium, we were staying in the mountain for 5 days and hearing topics on hypoxia studies for 5 days. I realized that stem cell research was to link with hypoxia research. Research has a trend of the time, but continues like a spiral in contact with other fields.
The current system of doctors-in-training has little connection with universities, and it is difficult for doctors to move from clinical work to research work. In stem cell research, bioinformatics has an increasing importance. We will need scientists or students who attempt to change their fields, for example from physics to biology or informatics to medicine, and those having wide visions.


Interviewed by Katsuaki Sato,Mio Watanabe(Japan Science Technology Agency)
Published on 5 April, 2010

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Dr. Toshio Suda

Professor for developmental biology courses, The Sakaguchi Laboratory, School of Medicine, Keio University, visiting professor at the Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics, Doctor of Medicine, physician, and, certified physician and educator of the Japanese Society of Hematology.

In 1974 : Graduated from School of Medicine, Yokohama City University
Since 1974 : Resident physician at the Department of Pediatrics, Kanagawa Children's Medical Center
Since 1978 : Assistant at the Department of Hematopoiesis, Institute of Hematology, Jichi Medical University
Since 1982 : Research associate at the Department of Internal Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina
Since 1984 : Instructor at the Department of Hematopoiesis, Institute of Hematology, Jichi Medical University
Since 1991 : Associate professor of hematology at the Department of Hematopoiesis, Institute of Hematology, Jichi Medical University
Since 1992 : Professor at the Division of Developmental Regulation, the Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics, School of Medicine, Kumamoto University
Since 2000 : Chief at the Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics, School of Medicine, Kumamoto University
Since 2000 : Professor at the Department of Hematopoiesis, the Division of Organogenesis, the Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics, School of Medicine, Kumamoto University
Since 2002 : The present post

From 2000 to 2004 : Project leader of "Characterization of Somatic Stem Cells and Tissue Reconstruction", Research for the Future Program, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.
Since 2008 : Research Supervisor of "Fundamental Technologies for Medicine Concerning the Generation and Regulation of Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) Cells", CREST, JST, and committee member of The Japanese Society of Hematology.

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