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Feel the depth of material and time of life through iPS cell research and developmental biology (1) -All 3 episodes-

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Photo:Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Professor Nishikawa, one of the world's leading stem cell researchers, is working on the mechanisms of growth and differentiation of blood and pigment stem cells, and making a systematic approach to development and regeneration for developing clinical applications of stem cells.
As the Research Supervisor of ""PRESTO", JST (Japan Science and Technology Agency) Basic Research Programs, Professor Nishikawa is encouraging basic research activities, and he has also been involved in the establishment of an industrial infrastructure, as the Program Officer of "S-Innovation", a project for the promotion of academic-industrial innovation, to promote regenerative medicine and drug development.
We had an opportunity to meet and interview Professor Nishikawa who is playing a key role in the fields of stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

"Anything could happen" is the selling point of PRESTO

Interviewer :
here are currently various iPS cell research projects. Could you tell us, as the Research Supevisor, about the goals of the "Understanding Life by iPS Cells Technology" section of PRESTO, a JST project?

Nishikawa :
PRESTO is a very simple project.
Young researchers have not focused on the research area of "iPS cells" until recently. Now, they are jumping onto this emerging research field. What interests me most is how they do it.
PRESTO is designed to support individual research activities, and it provides a good opportunity to young scientists to get external research funds, which I hope will help train themselves. Through their efforts to acquire external research funds, young researchers will learn what obligations they would have to assume. That is why I find it so interesting to train young people while observing their growth.
For example, there are young researchers whose objective of research is "to generate" iPS cells. In this case, however, after one year or so, they will have achieved the objective and the study finished, and if they want to get further research funds, they have to find other research themes.
To help them prepare for that, we spend much time for discussions. Almost all PRESTO advisors find it interesting to have such discussions and participate there.

Interviewer :
Are they allowed to choose any research subject related to regenerative medicine?

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa(Sketch by Katsuaki Sato)

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa
(Sketch by Katsuaki Sato)

Nishikawa :
In PRESTO, we confine our efforts to iPS cell research. I think there are many ohter iPS cell research projects in Japan, but most of them are based on a limited range of ideas. Among other projects such as Professor Yamanaka's one and CREST led by Professor Suda, PRESTO is to think and see things from a viewpoint that "anything could happen in the area of iPS cell research", and I think this will lead to good results.
How can they contribute to the research area using iPS cells as hardware? I always encourage young researchers to think what they can do.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) of USA allocates a grant of six million dollars to projects that are designed to study possibilities of using iPS cells in research on mental disorders.
There is an interesting research project to compare neurons of humans, bonobos, chimpanzees, and gorillas to collect information on genes responsible for schizophrenia. We have some project using rabbit iPS cells in the framework of PRESTO. We know already that rabbit ES cells have characteristics comparable to those of human ES cells, and I think we will be able to use rabbit iPS cells in experiments that we have not yet made using human iPS cells.
I expect those who are involved in iPS cell research to think from a broad perspective.

PRESTO is an excellent system in that young scientists are allowed to work independently from older generations, and to work jointly with each other to achieve a common objective.
These days, workshops are generally held only for one day, and in this case it is difficult for participants to take enough time to discuss with each other.
On the other hand, PRESTO organizes two-day conferences by research area to encourage discussion. In addition to this, no research funding is allocated to the research directors of PRESTO, which enables them to express opinions from a neutral standpoint.

Interviewer :
Do young researchers present their ideas?

Nishikawa :
So far, I have not heard from them any idea beyond my imagination. I think that today's young people are not very active in presenting their own ideas.
Or they probably just don't inform senior researchers of what they think in the laboratory.

Interviewer :
Today's young people seem to be enjoying a totally new approach to communication, don't they?

Nishikawa :
Yes. Cell phone novels may be a good example. A number of young people upload their works to express themselves. More than 50,000 titles are on just one website - one operated by DeNA Co., Ltd.
While older people only receive information displayed on the screen, young people act in a different way.
I believe that an innovative cultural change occurs at the time of economic downturn as in Austria around World War I. At that time, a variety of revolutionary musicians including Schoenberg and Anton Webern and philosophers such as Wittgenstein emerged.

Interviewer :
I am an amateur painter, and I am interested in the German Expressionism. I find it was a temporary movement and not expansive.

Nishikawa :
We find a number of wonderful Expressionist paintings and movies. However, the movements were suppressed and destroyed by the Nazi regime.
Let's get back on track. From my point of view, Japan's economic stagnation in recent years provides a good opportunity to nurture our culture.

S-Innovation has a definite goal of developing a new healthcare industry

Interviewer :
I hear that you have assumed the position of Project Officer for Strategic Promotion of Innovative Research and Development (S-Innovation) of JST, a project designed to facilitate collaboration between medicine and engineering.
Please tell us about the project : "Establishment of a new health care industry based on iPS and other cell technologies" and its goal, practical application of regenerative medicine in cooperation with the industry.

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Nishikawa :
While the project PRESTO places emphasis on the "entrance" to research, S-Innovation focus on the "exit" from it.
Both projects are interesting and inspiring.
Unlike researchers who are supposed to apply for research funds and produce satisfactory results, research directors and project officers are in a position to look over the whole project and give comments from a neutral perspective.

Interviewer :
Participation by the industry, i.e. companies, is essential for this academic-industrial collaboration project, S-Innovation. Is there any company who is interested in this project?

Nishikawa :
This is a difficult part. Let me give an example of the automobile manufacturing industry. When Toyota contracts out part of the parts manufacturing, the relationship with the subcontractor starts from the stage of parts design. The manufacturing company may also serve as a subcontractor for another automobile company, say Nissan, as long as intellectual property issues have been addressed.
However, this will not be the case in the regenerative medicine industry.
Will it be possible for some venture and other companies to collaborate with each other to achieve the goal, i.e., practical application of regenerative medicine, while making the best of their patents?
The most important thing is to make something come true, instead of just thinking of its feasibility.

Interviewer :
Japan Tissue Engineering Co., Ltd. was selected for the project S-Innovation. The other day, I visited this company for an interview to be published on iPS Trend (Interview article : What is necessary for industrialization of regenerative medicine?).

Nishikawa :
In 1999, J-TEC was established in Aichi Prefecture by NIDEC Co., Ltd, a company that develops, produces, and distributes ophthalmic instruments.
While people in Kyoto and Osaka expand their business into the Kanto area or Tokyo, those living in the Chubu area have a global perspective, probably because of their culture. J-TEC is also markedly motivated to revolutionize health care in the 21st century.

Interviewer :
The company produces and sells the autologous cultured epidermis, and for the moment this business does not seem to be profit-making.

Nishikawa :
It is a personalized product and is under strict regulations at least for the time being. Nevertheless, the regenerative medicine industry expects a lot of this product and its widespread use.
Since automation is essential to efficiently produce customized skin sheets, the company is working with a machinery manufacturer to develop a robot for the fully automated production.
In our academic industrial collaboration projects designed to promote the practical and clinical application of research results, we often ask professors to place their top priority on patients and the industry rather than writing scientific articles.

Interviewed by Miwako Honma (supervisor of iPS Trend website), Katsuaki Sato,Mio Watanabe(Japan Science Technology Agency)
Published on 20 April, 2010

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Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Deputy Director of RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology
Group Director of Stem Cell Research Group, RIKEN
Deputy President "Director, Division of the Regenerative Medicine, Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation
Doctor of Medicine

1973 Graduated from Kyoto University Faculty of Medicine
Resident physician, medical staff, and medical assistant at Chest Disease Research Institute of Kyoto University
1980 Fellow at Institute for Genetics, University of Cologne, Germany (with a fellowship of Humboldt Foundation)
1983 Associate Professor at the Animal Experiment Facility for Infections and Immunology, Chest Disease Research Institute, Kyoto University
1987 Professor at the Division of Pathology (current Division of Morphogenesis), Institute for Medical Immunology, Kumamoto University School of Medicine
From 1993 to 2000 Professor of Molecular Genetics, Laboratory of Genetic Medicine, Department of Molecular Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine Kyoto University

Since 2008 Program Officer of S-Innovation (Strategic Promotion of Innovative Research and Development) "Establishment of a new health care industry based on iPS and other cell technologies"
Research Supervisor of "Understanding Life byiPS Cells Technology" research area, JST Basic Research Programs "PRESTO"

Awards :
1997 Memorial Award of Seiji Makoto, Japan Lydia O'Leary Memorial Foundation
1999 Philipp Franz von Siebold-Preis (German government)
2002 Academic Award of the Mochida Memorial Foundation for Medical and Pharmaceutical Research


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