Waga:COI Tohoku's basic initiatives involve exchanging knowledge between universities and corporations to solve social issues relating to health topics. With international competitiveness being demanded of universities, we started a project under the guidance of MEXT to search for a new way for Japanese universities to work.
Discussions with around 80 university professors, corporate members, and young researchers resulted in the unified opinion that if society continues as it is today, continued support of health in the official capacity will be difficult. If society comes to the point where health cannot be secured by national and municipal finances, we as individuals will have to care for our own bodies. And it's also important to us to provide warm support for those who are dear to us. Ridding medical fees of excess, spotting poor physical conditions in ourselves and our loved ones early on in our everyday lives, and caring for one another. We think that it is necessary to create a society in which we can use this "warmth" to cover the issues that we cannot expect to be handled by the government. Caring for yourself means maintaining your own health, mutual support between family members and neighbors, and striving toward a warm society formed from "self-help" and "mutual-assistance."
Nagatomi:In order to actualize this society, we at Tohoku University are performing research and development of sensors that can spot poor physical conditions and factors for illness in everyday life. For example, you can use the sensor to measure slight everyday poor physical conditions such as stiff neck, bleary eyes, and listlessness, sharing that data between you and your family to care for your body and prevent illness early-on. In order to maintain your happiness, it is most important to reduce anxiety. To provide processes for spotting and solving poor physical conditions that may cause stress early-on, we believe that contributing to society with the technologies we research will create innovations that lead to making people happy.
Waga:People are already using sensors to check their poor physical conditions, but there's nowhere in the world where you can find a system of "mutual-assistance" that allows you to view other people's sensors to give them aid. It is also an extremely new business model. At COI Tohoku, we want to challenge ourselves to creating "warmth that doesn't exist in the world."
We know the number of people living alone is increasing in Japan, but "loneliness" is becoming an issue in the UK and the US as well. The feeling that arises from isolation is said to be a higher risk of illness than even cigarettes and obesity. In societies like these, it is important to mutually support not only your family, but also the people in society and your community if you want to live a healthy and happy life. At COI, our ideal is to use the concept of "Measure, Recognize, Actuate," taking measurements with sensors, assessing changes in your physical condition by AI, and providing society with our system filled with human warmth through corporations and universities. From here in Sendai, we hope to improve the impact of solutions to the issue of loneliness around the world.
Nakazawa: As a doctor, it is my responsibility to backup COI Tohoku's initiatives medically, and provide advice for efficient research and development. Just as there are discrepancies in the functionality of medical and health devices, there are many distinctive rules in the medical industry, so it is necessary to verify how far we should apply functionality. In addition, just as you would go to a diabetes specialist if you have diabetes, we introduce doctors specializing in the topics of each project. I feel that there are many things that doctors can do to provide the amazing technologies of COI Tohoku to society.
Matsue:At COI Tohoku, we utilize the data of a project called Tohoku Medical Megabank. This project was created in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and is set to analyze the genome of every generation following the disaster. The physical qualities of individuals are closely connected to their health, and genomes play an important part in determining those qualities.
Nagatomi:I had discussions with the professors at the refuge shelter about what we could do to contribute. At that time, we were united in the desire to not only restore the town, but to also use our academic knowledge to provide aid to troubled people. Public health support is not necessarily helpful for each individual person. Therefore, we are considering utilizing data of genomes to support the health of individuals. The desire to reverse the damage suffered from the disaster also forms the base of COI Tohoku activities.
Matsue:I started participating in the COI project because I wanted to use the characteristics unique to Tohoku University to contribute to society. At Tohoku University, our motto is "Practice-oriented Research and Education," which we accomplish by utilizing researched technology in society. We think that we can give back to society by mixing biological information of the genomes relating to health with the sensor technologies that measure them. That's why we established COI Tohoku, and over a hundred faculty members who empathized with the principle of the project joined. This included participation of people from not only medical and engineering departments, but also professors of research institutes, economics, law, and education, resulting in an extremely layered organization.
We also consulted corporations, and decided to focus our energies on basic research for the first three years. We did basic research in the five groups of sensor development, medical data, communications, energy, and information/law/economy, and once social implementation started to look like a possibility, we spoke to corporations once again. This project considered both technological development and how we should use information to advance our business, so we were able to receive the cooperation of empathetic corporations in manufacturing, information, service, marketing, and several other industries.
At this point, satellite organizations, Waseda University and Tohoku Gakuin University, and over 20 private enterprises are participating in the COI Tohoku project. Each party is utilizing their specialties and strengths to work toward social implementation.
Waga:We think that the value of COI Tohoku is our ability to provide technology with warmth to tackle the issues of the world head-on. For the people around the world living alone who are concerned about their health, we intend not only to provide sensors, but also send them "a lifestyle with peace-of-mind" from here in Sendai, so that they can live happily.
Nagatomi:Using the concept of "unobtrusive sensing," we are performing research that strives toward a very natural user experience. For example, we are researching sensing technology that combines chairs and sensors, with the goal of enabling users to calculate their health conditions every day by simply sitting down. Other professors are developing sensors that allow you to measure your health by simply looking in a mirror or wearing a watch. This way, you can assess your health conditions in your everyday life without getting a medical checkup or a physical examination at a special facility. We feel that means that instead of always relying on others, you can develop a sense of responsibility to make yourself healthy. We are approaching the task of helping people become more aware of their health and link to activities for healthcare, based on scientific reasoning.
Inaho:We make platforms so that they can continuously create sustainable innovations to accomplish the large objectives of the COI project. Universities have produced many great research results, but they are not good at implementing these results in society. Therefore, we are collaborating with corporations to spread technologies throughout society to create innovations, and staying continuously active. Furthermore, COI projects commissioned by JST (Japan Science and Technology Agency) are performed using the budget we received from the national government, but that alone is somewhat limiting. We created a platform for collaborating with a variety of corporations, receiving support for resources through cooperative research, which in turn allows us to create systems that enable sustainable research.
This platform has significant benefits for corporations. In the past, cooperative research between universities and corporations was performed one-on-one. However, COI Tohoku has over 20 corporations working with us, so we use Tohoku University as a hub to create brand new collaborations between corporations that had never interacted with each other in the past. For example, we can match up corporations with good services and technologies but no route to sales and corporations with customers who have strong needs for those services and technologies. We create synergy by connecting corporations that work in completely different businesses, enabling the expansion of business with higher added value.
Waga:The research and innovation activities of the university hold no answers. Despite this, we are searching for what we should do to become the best. The COI project seems to be modeled after American innovation sites, with young and energetic venture corporations gathered around world-class universities like Stanford. However, universities in Japan are slightly different from those in the US, and trends toward creating ventures to make a profit haven't been so successful. Tohoku University has many capable teachers, all of whom know how to create simplicity and warmth. Rather than relying on Silicon Valley-standard business models to be the best in the world, I think we can reach the top using methods of social implementation unique to Tohoku University.
Matsue:We are currently in the final stages of the third phase of the project, and the relative importance of initiatives toward social implementation is increasing. Basic research in the initial phase was centered on universities, but corporations become the focus in the stages of social implementation, so it is necessary to consider what universities should do to advance the project. There's also the issue of training young researchers. The young researchers of COI Tohoku are extremely active, using leading research to contribute to innovations. We provide courteous support for them, but we must consider how best to continue this self-sustainable system.
Nakazawa:Nakazawa: With futuristic medical treatment, both "individualized treatment" that properly treats patients' ailments at a low cost and "individualized prevention" involving exercise, mental care, and diet modification for healthcare maintenance are important. We often hear that early intervention and early treatment are required to minimize medical costs, but excessive treatment should be avoided. Creating detailed evidence to figure out how to delineate the line between presymptomatic and sick is the field of physicians. To achieve this, we feel that we require the active participation of as many doctors in the COI Tohoku project as possible.
Nagatomi:At COI Tohoku, we are striving toward creating a real healthcare industry that goes beyond medical care and caregiving. In addition to providing an environment in which all people can live happily with ease, we also want to create a place for young researchers to exhibit their abilities as they work on research and development to realize this goal.
Nakazawa:Our ideal is to quantify the flow of healthy to presymptomatic to sick, allowing us to understand health as a single continuum. I think that we can actualize this system through the sensor technology being developed by COI Tohoku. Additionally, receiving advice on hospital examinations from AI should also lead to early treatment for patients. Rather than simply waiting for patients to come to the hospital, doctors should be actively involved in early treatment. To this goal, we are attempting to change healthcare and society through COI Tohoku's initiatives.
Waga:One of the major causes of concern for the future of Japan's finances is the vast increase of medical fees. From now on, it is important to create a base that allows people to live happily and easily through self-help and mutual-assistance, rather than relying on doctors for every single problem. COI Tohoku feels a strong sense of mission as we fulfill the important role of creating that base. We want to become a site that creates new methods of health control that differ from the conventional way of handling illness that usually just involved taking medicine. We intend to continue working actively on this project into the future with this dream in mind.
There is a limit to the services a single corporation can provide, but by joining COI Tohoku and communicating with corporations from differing industries, corporations have created many new and exciting ideas. We thank you for your continued support as we work to give these ideas form and send them out to society.
I want to make COI Tohoku a site with active young researchers at the center who shoulder the future. Healthcare is a very important issue for young people as well. Please come and work with us.
A happy, stress-free life is something that everyone from children to the elderly deserves to enjoy. I believe that COI Tohoku's initiatives will lead to not only healthcare, but also to changing society as a whole, including education.
We are working with the concept of "backcasting" calculating backward from our image of how the future should be, and even as a doctor, I feel my field of vision expanding significantly. In order to also actualize a great society, I hope to get as many people interested in COI Tohoku's initiatives as possible.
By creating value with COI Tohoku as the base, I hope to start a movement to change society and people. Even in Japan, with our overarching sense of hopelessness, I hope to create a society where individuals can hold on to hope.