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Feel the depth of material and time of life through iPS cell research and developmental biology (2) -All 3 episodes-

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Top-down systems are combined with bottom-up elements

Interviewer :
At present, a large amount of research funds is allocated to iPS cell research projects, and the researchers involved in the projects receive part of the funds. Many other researchers, like me, may sometimes feel jealous of them.
What is your opinion about research funding?
One of the traditional funding systems is to select, according to the R&D goals set by the government, possible research directors from among scientists who have achieved excellent results, and to allocate funds to them.
What are the advantages of this top-down approach?
A good example is a concerted effort made for cancer research at a national level. It contributed to the advancement of basic biology in a comprehensive manner, didn't it?

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Nishikawa :
Such effort in "Cancer Research", a special cancer research project, has continued for thirty years. This enabled us to record a research history of this field, including successive research policies. This has never been done before in Japan. Much progress has been made in cancer research over the past thirty years, and archives that show Japan's approaches to cancer during that period are available.
It is true that "Cancer Research" has played an important role in raising the bottom level of the whole fundamental research. With a limited number of researchers in Japan, it may be difficult to conduct intensive research on a particular subject.

Another way of funding is to allocate funds to individual scientists who have proposed such and such themes. In this case research is promoted on a bottom-up basis, and the abilities of these scientists are developed.

Interviewer :
For The Project for the Promotion of Strategic, Creative Studies of JST, the direction of research is given on a top-down basis, isn't it?

Nishikawa :
The government has not given a fixed framework. There is no indication given by the government as to what objectives we have to achieve in iPS cell research.There is only a general direction. There is a room for scientists to think freely, and therefore it is not a fully top-down system.

Interviewer :
In general, the allocation of research funding in the Promotion of Strategic, Creative Studies by JST is considered to be a top-down research promotion system, while Grants-in-Aids for Scientific Research of JSPS can be regarded as a bottom-up system. As a leader of JST PRESTO, which do you think your project's system is?

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Nishikawa :
The Cancer Research had both top-down and bottom-up systems. For example, scientists had to follow top-down instructions as to screening and sequencing, but were allowed to conduct other parts of the research based on their own ideas. In this way, an "underground water vein" has been built.
I believe this is Japan's strength.
Korea and China launched iPS cell research projects after the foundations of research had been completed, and they tend to go directly into advanced research on a top-down basis. If they continue this way, they will be faced with difficulties in the near future.

Interviewer :
While "S-Innovation" is a top-down system, PRESTO has also bottom-up elements. Is that right?

Nishikawa :
Yes, it is. S-Innovation is based on a top-down system, with its clearly defined goals as the "exit" of research. When researchers make a proposal for changing the policy and the proposal does not seem to lead to the exit, we have to convince them to follow the original policy.
In contrast, in PRESTO, it is important to feel and find how to make use of "iPS cells as hardware" given from the top. In this context we want to enjoy a surprise. Bottom-up elements are essential for training researchers.

With innovative ideas, established new research institutes

Interviewer :
We hear that you also played a part in the establishment of the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences in Kyoto University.

Nishikawa :
Yes, I did. While helping them establish the institute, I came up with the term "regenerative medicine" as in the title. To tell the truth, I myself was not sure we should use the word "regenerative" at that time. In fact, Professor Hiroo Imura, Former President of Kyoto University, seemed to have prepared a more acceptable title.
For this institute, I realized the idea of collaboration between medicine and engineering.
It was in 1996, my third year in Kyoto University.

Interviewer :
Collaboration between medicine and engineering is now seen in many research projects including S-Innovation for which you work as the project officer.
At that time, however, you must have a hard time as a pioneer between two different cultures of medicine and engineering. Did the collaboration work out?

Nishikawa :
There are still some problems. I sometimes find that the autonomy of each faculty in a university is an obstacle.
Even after the incorporation of national universities, faculty of medicine and faculty of engineering often operate on their own and negotiate with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology separately. It is ideal if a university as a whole would exercise leadership.

Riken Kobe Institute,RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB)

Riken Kobe Institute,
RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB)

Interviewer :
You were also involved in the establishment of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB), Riken Kobe Institute. I think that the center is a flat and very unique organization.

Nishikawa :
The government and Riken were originally planning to establish a research institute specializing in regenerative medicine, but Kyoto University already has a similar facility – Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences.
What is the point in establishing a new research institute if it does not allow more independent challenges?
Then I consulted Mr. Masuo Aizawa of the Council for Science and Technology Policy to create a non-university facility that promotes research in developmental biology in a free environment. Eventually, under unique conditions : 1) research in developmental biology, 2) no hierarchy, 3) a fixed-term system, and 4) English as a common language, the CDB was established as part of the millennium project developed by the government.

I would stress that, different from other Riken institutes, the CDB does not accept researchers who hold concurrent posts in other institutes. We ask those coming to the CDB to leave their former institute.
This makes more positions open to young researchers and the CDB scientists concentrate on a new job in the CDB.
I hope that the review of budget requests will help develop a research environment in which a researcher is allowed to concentrate on one position, and an opportunity will be given to as many researchers as possible.


Interviewed by Miwako Honma (supervisor of iPS Trend website), Katsuaki Sato,Mio Watanabe(Japan Science Technology Agency)
Published on 6 May, 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
Physician

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",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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