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Dean's New Year's Address for 2021

Best wishes for a happy New Year. Although the current situation may make it difficult to fully celebrate the coming of a New Year, I would like to extend my greetings to you, since whatever the year, the New Year is always a time to make a fresh start. I would also like to appreciate your setting aside time for greetings today amidst busy schedules.


To begin with, I must refer to the COVID-19 pandemic which has restricted our lives and activities to a great extent. 11 months have already passed since February 2020 when the notification message was sent to inform you that IMSUT Hospital might accept COVID-19 patients. The IMSUT COVID-19 Task Force, consisting of IMSUT Hospital Director Tojo, Nursing Director Yoshii, General Manager Matsui, Vice Hospital Director Yotsuyanagi and other members, has greatly contributed both to local medical care at IMSUT Hospital and to nationwide initiatives including the development of prevention and treatment options for COVID-19. I sincerely appreciate for their prompt actions taken since the so-called first wave of COVID-19. Their excellent performance won 2020’s special prize of the UTokyo President’s Award for Business Transformation. I would like to congratulate all the members of IMSUT Hospital.
 
I would also like to thank you for your cooperation and patience during the period of the University of Tokyo activity restrictions ranging from level 0.5 to level 3. In particular, during the emergency declaration period commencing on April 6, 2020, many important research activities or business operations had to be suspended. I understand this caused a great deal of inconvenience to IMSUT members. On the other hand, it must have been difficult for everyone involved in research directly related to the novel coronavirus countermeasures and those engaged in the medical care work of IMSUT Hospital to carry out their duties while paying scrupulous attention to infection prevention measures. Owing to the members’ dedicated cooperation, no spread of infection within IMSUT has occurred thus far. In addition to hospital operations and corona-related research, IMSUT’s overall function in research and education has not been significantly reduced but rather steadily enhanced. It would not have been possible without the efforts of all members.
 
Meanwhile, although infections per capita is lower than that of Tokyo as a whole, positive cases among University of Tokyo staff and students have been reported. Unfortunately, there is now a greater likelihood that the University’s Activity Restriction Level will be raised to level 1 or higher again. I sincerely ask all members for preparation to move into restricted operations and continued cooperation to prevent the spread of infection, especially wearing masks, ensuring social distancing and ventilation, washing hands, and avoiding meetings over meals and drinks.

So far, I have described COVID-19 responses at IMSUT. Now, let me talk about a pleasant subject suitable for the New Year, the personnel affairs which will support the future of IMSUT. Regarding Faculty personnel, Dr. Shibuya was promoted to Professor at the Human Genome Center. Medical science research with AI is one of our core projects and I believe his expertise will bring significant benefit to IMSUT. On New Year’s day of 2021, IMSUT also welcomed Dr. Inada from Tohoku University as a professor, who is the leading researcher in RNA study on the expression of genome information. I have no doubt that his arrival will promote the development of genomic medical science at IMSUT.
 
At IMSUT Hospital, the Department of Urology welcomed Prof. Kume last year as a concurrent professor within the University, as part of a cooperative project with the University of Tokyo Hospital. Following this, Prof. Shida joined us from the National Cancer Center Hospital as a new Head of the Department of Surgery. Prof. Kume and Prof. Shida are now working to increase surgical capabilities of IMSUT Hospital. Robot-assisted surgery by da Vinc, which has already been launched as medical treatment, is one of its prominent examples.

The Hospital also acquired two new associate professors, namely Dr. Aikou of the Department of Surgery, and Dr. Ota of the Department of Pathology, additions that are essential to ensure its surgical activities. All the personnel affairs mentioned here show how much importance we place on enhancing surgical capabilities in the hospital.
 
Likewise, many other experts have newly joined IMSUT as associate professors to extend the capabilities of their respective departments. We acquired Associate Prof. Yamamoto for the Department of Rheumatology and Allergy and Associate Prof. Kato for the Division of Molecular Virology. Associate Prof. Uchida joined IMSUT to develop gene and cell therapy, and Associate Prof. Park, to promote analysis by supercomputer and AI medical science.
 
Prof. Zhang, Prof. Gohda, and Prof. Fukui have also joined IMSUT as project associate professors who specialize in information analysis research and infectious disease research. On top of that, the world's leading researcher in basic medical sciences will be joining us next month as our new professor. Through such acquisition of skilled scientific personnel, IMSUT’s comprehensive basic and clinical capabilities are steadily improving.
 
On the other hand, in a heavy blow to us, Prof. Inoue and Prof. Miyano, who are the leading investigators in molecular signal research and information analysis research, retired due to the mandatory retirement policy. Prof. Inoue went on to become a Senior Professor of the University of Tokyo and is currently conducting research activities including the COVID-19 therapeutic candidate Nafamostat mesylate (brand name: Fusan), which he found. Meanwhile, Prof. Miyano is advancing new information analysis research as a Project Professor at Tokyo Medical and Dental University. I very much hope that we will receive further advice from the two, gracing us with their broad perspectives on infectious disease research and information analysis research, both of which are core projects of IMSUT.
 
Likewise, many other associate professors and project faculty members have been transferred out of IMSUT upon promotion or to launch new laboratories. This is another loss to us but serves as proof that IMSUT is contributing to the improvement of research capabilities in Japan. I wish them every success for the future.


Now, let us look at the number of English peer-reviewed papers. which is one of the indicators of research performance. Since FY2014, IMSUT has continuously presented approximately 500 reviewed papers every year, while the percentage of articles published in journals with an impact factor of 10 or above has remained high at around 15%. Although the number decreased a little in FY2019, it has risen overall since FY2017. We will continue to focus on improving the research capabilities of IMSUT, including the areas augmented by new members.

As for the income obtained from external sources, which is another indicator of research performance, both the number of cases and amount of income have been steadily increasing over the past five years. I would like to express my deep gratitude to every member of IMSUT for their success and hope that this momentum will continue.

Noteworthy as well are the special awards gained by the members for their research achievements. The AMED (Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development) President’s Award was awarded to Project Associate Prof. Yamazaki. Associate Prof. Sato won the Young Scientists’ Prize (the Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). Associate Prof. Ichinohe received the Research Incentive Award of the Intestinal Microbiology Society. As I mentioned earlier, the special prize of the UTokyo President’s Award for Business Transformation was awarded to IMSUT Hospital. In addition, the novel coronavirus countermeasures liaison conference, to which Prof. Imoto has served as an advisor, was granted the special awards from the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization and the J-League. I would like to pay tribute to their distinguished achievements and congratulate them from the bottom of my heart.

Just as last year, I have talked about our faculty affairs, publications in journals, research funding, and numerous awards received by our members. Looking ahead, IMSUT will work on promoting medical science research leading to future medical treatment. To enable this, we must bear in mind three guiding principles emphasized by Prof. Shibasaburo Kitasato, the IMSUT founder: "Practical science", "Comprehensive research", and "Disease prevention". We also need to take full advantage of our strengths such as diverse human resources, interdisciplinary research environments, an in-house supercomputer, and the affiliated project-based hospital. We then need to advance the balanced development of basic, translational, and clinical research with the use of complex big data and AI. I look forward to your further cooperation and greater success, which I believe is fundamental to achieving our goals.
 
Let us now take a look at IMSUT’s activity as an “International Joint Usage/Research Center”, which supports medical science in Japan and the world, and its functional enhancement projects.

Since November 2018, IMSUT has been the only authorized International Joint Usage/Research Center in the life science field and has served as the "International Joint Research Center for Promoting Basic and Applied Research and Implementing Translational Research". In this Joint Usage/Research Center Project, IMSUT aims to extend the horizon of knowledge in basic research and accelerate the creation of medical innovation in applied research by promoting effective collaboration with universities and research institutes in Japan and abroad, through three core joint research areas.

Up to this point, IMSUT has supported numerous joint research projects between domestic research institutes and overseas research institutes as a core center, while the number of research projects has increased by more than 50% from FY2018 to FY2019. I deeply appreciate all of your hard work and effort.


In FY2020, the "Core Research for Creating New Dimension Genomic Medicine by Integrating Human Intelligence and AI" led by Prof. Imoto started as a MEXT Budget Request project, with the aim to enhance the function which support the Joint Usage/Research Center Project. On top of that, the "New Dimensional Vaccine Research and Development Program" led by Prof. Ishii has been budgeted as the project and will commence in April. In this way, owing to the efforts of all concerned parties, the functional enhancement of IMSUT is progressing quite smoothly. In FY2021, we will go on to prepare for the realization of new functional enhancement projects. Thank you for your ongoing cooperation.


Now and in the future, the functional enhancement of the affiliated hospital is essential for IMSUT as an International Joint Usage/Research Center. Following specific action plans for the enhancement project, which was put forward last year by Prof. Tojo, diagnostic imaging outside of office hours has already been implemented. Also, surgical treatment in collaboration with the newly established Division and Department (the Division of Frontier Surgery led by Prof. Shida and the Department of Urology led by Prof. Kume), which I mentioned earlier, and the improvement of the in-hospital rehabilitation system have been implemented over the past year. In this way, the functions of IMSUT Hospital, especially of the Departments of Surgery, have been steadily built up. For the advancement of the field of surgery, and of the field of internal medicine that is necessary for further development of our hospital, I would again like to ask for your help and cooperation.
Next, let me turn to the Committee on Promoting Collaboration in Life Sciences, Biobank Japan, and the Translational Research Network Program, endeavors also mentioned last year. All of these are projects that contribute to the life sciences in Japan as a whole, together with the International Joint Usage/Research Center.
 
The first is the Committee on Promoting Collaboration in Life Sciences, which is a particularly important and distinctive organization. The Committee is in charge of general management of the "Platforms for Advanced Technologies and Research Resources" project in innovative research areas, advances research on cutting-edge analysis technology, and provides support to Japan's research projects funded by KAKENHI (Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research). Prof. Inoue is the general representative, and Prof. Murakami and Prof. Inoue are the representatives of two of the four support platforms. The Research Platform Office in charge of operation management is set up in the Dean's Office of IMSUT, and 14 faculty members of IMSUT are involved in this support project, including Prof. Daigo, Prof. Yamada, Prof. Mashimo, and Prof. Takekawa. The Committee has already supported nearly 4,000 research projects, leading to publication of more than 2,300 papers, which best explains the importance of this project. In the past year alone, there have been 1,724 projects and 1,066 papers, accomplishments showing very promising results. I would like to express my deep gratitude to everyone involved in this project.

The second endeavor, Biobank Japan (BBJ), stores and provides high-quality, extremely valuable samples as the world's largest disease biobank. Its follow-up surveys of clinical information and DNA analysis, which generate the value of samples, are being carried out in parallel. In this way, BBJ continues to develop further as a valuable biobank. In fact, thanks to the efforts of Prof. Murakami, Prof. Matsuda, Prof. Kamatani, Project Prof. Morisaki, Prof. Muto, Prof. Furukawa, and other members, the number of DNA and serum samples offered to researchers has been steadily increasing, and some notable achievements have followed. Moreover, we plan to conduct a comprehensive analysis of serum and DNA samples and a digitalization of the data in order to increase the value of BBJ. Again, your cooperation in this project would be greatly appreciated.

The third endeavor is the Translational Research Network Program for which the University of Tokyo is playing a leading role in assisting the development of academia seeds from the basic research stage. In this project, Prof. Nagamura, Prof. Tojo, and other members of IMSUT provide a wide range of support services together with the members of the University of Tokyo Hospital. The development of academia seeds and their practical application such as out-licensing to companies, clinical trials, and marketing authorization application are making significant progress. For instance, the application for approval for the novel treatment with oncolytic virus led by Prof. Todo was submitted at the end of 2020 (December 28).

Also, visible progress has been made in the research and development that has led to the First in Human clinical trials, the first stage of testing in human subjects. If you find any seeds in your own research results that could merit further development, please feel free to contact the Program team; it may become a new global preventive or therapeutic measure launched by IMSUT. The foregoing is a brief overview of the International Joint Usage/Research Center project, the budget request projects that support the Center project, the enhancement of hospital functions, and the three research support projects.


As for the enhancement of shared facilities, which is a vital part of strengthening IMSUT’s research capabilities, Prof. Mashimo and Associate Prof. Tokiko Nagamura are currently taking the lead in developing the Amami Laboratory of Injurious Animals and in establishing a new Cell Processing Facility, respectively. Capability development of both facilities has just commenced, and it is hoped that this will encourage more active and extensive use.

Additionally, the enhancement of the research environment is another important factor in strengthening IMSUT’s activity. To this end, the improvement of the online lecture/conference system and the effective use of Shirokanedai Campus site project is being promoted in cooperation with the University of Tokyo Headquarters. With the efforts of Vice-Dean Iwama, General Manager Matsui, and other members of the Administration Office, both aforementioned projects are making steady progress. In the meantime, preparations have already begun for seismic retrofitting of Building No. 3.
 
Lastly, I would like to tell you about the enhancement of social cooperation, which is also important for strengthening IMSUT’s function. The establishment of the UTokyo Future Medical Development Fund and the implementation of a special seminar for its donors were both made possible by support from Professor Furukawa, the Vice-Dean in charge, and the members of the Administration Office led by General Manager Matsui. We have already received a lot of donations owing to their efforts, which I greatly appreciate. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to Prof. Yotsuyanagi, Prof. Kawaoka, Prof. Ishii, Associate Prof. Ikenoue, Prof. Taniguchi, and Prof. Muto, for giving lectures at the special seminar.

Furthermore, as a result of the collaborative efforts of the public relations staff led by Prof. Nakanishi, the Vice-Dean in charge; and Prof. Shibuya, the chairman of the public relations committee, the website was enriched and the public relations magazine “The Platinum Street Times” was successfully launched. I would like to commend all concerned for their contributions to designing a new platform for achieving a virtuous cycle of dissemination to society and support from society. I would appreciate IMSUT members’ cooperation in using its website and contributing to its public relations magazine.

So that roughly sums up the various functional enhancement measures taken and the progress made by IMSUT in 2020. I believe the most important thing for IMSUT is its unique research and technological developments that individual researchers and medical professionals carry out driven by their intellectual curiosity. I sincerely hope that IMSUT members will continue to actively promote the development of basic research, translational research, and clinical research with complex big data and AI in the exceptional environment of IMSUT. There is no doubt that your research activities are supported by the strong cooperation of the Department Chairs, Hospital Executives, and administrative members of staff. And of course we, the IMSUT Executives, will continue to do our utmost to support your research activities.
I understand that there is still much room to improve our work, but as promised in my inauguration speech, I will do my best to enable each of you to demonstrate your full ability. I would greatly appreciate your cooperation.

Thank you for your kind attention.
 
Yuji Yamanashi, Ph.D.
Dean