This month’s article is “A Road Toward Sustainable Recovery”, looking at the proposal to establish a large-scale biobank in North East Japan.
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The run of public holidays in Golden Week at the start of the month have made May relatively quiet. With temperatures beginning to rise and no prospect of the mass switching-on of Japan.s inactive nuclear power plants, plans are once again being put in place to deal with the anticipated spike in the demand for energy to power air conditioning in the summer months. Workers are being encouraged to adopt the ¡°Cool Biz¡± dress code of short sleeve shirts, no neckties and the like. Discussions continue with industry to vary shift patterns to spread energy demand throughout the week. Having survived the same pressures last summer there is quiet confidence that the situation will be managed again, but it involves a certain amount of discomfort and inconvenience.
In the longer term, Japan is considering ways of increasing the share of electricity generated from renewable sources. Currently this stands at about 1% despite considerable potential in wind, geothermal and photovoltaic power. A number of regulatory and market issues have so far restricted the successful
widespread integration of renewable power into the energy mix, but there is a clear appetite for making it much easier for renewable power to take more of the strain from nuclear in the medium to long term. Below Yumiko Myoken, our Senior Science Officer for Life Sciences, describes plans to establish a large
biobank in the North East of Japan, which was worst hit by last year.s earthquake and tsunami. There are many initiatives planned to stimulate the recovery of the region.s economy across several sectors. This particular project aims to contribute to that redevelopment while also monitoring a large cohort to assess any effects of the disaster on the physical and mental health of the population.
Many of the big initiatives in science and technology in Japan will continue to be shaped in part by the reconstruction programme, but there continue to be interesting developments across a wide range of fields. The news that the Ministry of Health has decided to allow the use of embryonic stem cells in clinical trials (previously only approved for basic research) demonstrates Japan.s commitment to maintaining its position in areas such as this where it has already established world class expertise.
Science & Innovation Consul
British Consulate General, Osaka
The launch of the „Tohoku Medical Mega Bank Organisation. on 4th April 2012 heralded a significant investment in biomedicine for the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March last year. The aim of the Mega Bank is to integrate medical systems and genome information based on various omic
analyses to support healthcare, preventative and personalised medicine in the region. It will increase the capacity and expertise in genome medical research, healthcare, bioinformatics and clinical trials, and will promote industry-academic collaboration essential towards the building of next generation medical clusters. Led by Tohoku University with a total government investment of 21.4 billion yen (~£160m), the Medical Megabank will conduct a large-scale medical survey through a cohort study of 70,000 cases, including three generations of family and a comparative study of 80,000 regional residents. About 10,000 pregnant women will be recruited from 2014 to 2016 with other participants to include the baby, and the baby.s father, grandmother and grandfather.
The advantages of a three generation study include improving the uniformity of disease samples from phenotype, which has family history. The exposure assessment covers the genome, omics, physical examination and lifestyles. The study is intended to analyse underweight births, congenital malformation,
developmental disorders, atopic dermatitis, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, mental disorders, etc. The cumulative effects of environmental factors will be also investigated.
For the regional cohort study of 80,000 cases, genetic factors that cause diabetes, high blood pressure, and hyperlipidemia will be clarified by analysing medical records and biological samples. Furthermore, the study will look for any increase in infectious and cardiovascular disease, depression and related mental illnesses that might be directly or indirectly attributable to the earthquake and related disasters. Based upon the results of a medical examination, classes for mental health, exercise and nutrition will be arranged.
The UK is one of the leading countries for the ethics and governance of biobanks through the creation of 500,000 Biobank projects during 2006-2010. As Japan builds it Megabank there will no doubt be lessons that Japan can learn from the UK.s Biobank governance structure, including informed trust and political negotiations under sociocultural challenges. The SIN Japan team organised a UK-Japan workshop on personalised medicine in January as well as a teleconference to facilitate a dialogue between JHSA and UK Biobank which highlighted opportunities for further bilateral collaboration.
The Office of Medical Innovation in the Cabinet Office clearly identifies the Tohoku Medical Megabank Project as one of Japan.s core life strategies and underlines the significance of further efforts in promoting activities to inform citizens of personalised medicine, personal genomes and order made healthcare.
Senior Science Officer
Science and Innovation Section
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