Vol.1, August 2014
Hideyuki Okano, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Physiology, Keio University School of Medicine, Tokyo.
Our research activities are focused on the central nervous system, that is, research on the brain and spinal cord. Notably, we have been conducting collaborative research for more than 10 years with the Central Institute for Experimental Animals (CIEA) on producing various types of pathological animal models using small primates known as marmosets.
In 2005 we succeeded in producing the world’s first spinal cord injury model, which is patented in Japan, USA and several other countries. Importantly, pharmaceutical companies are pursuing clinical trials based on our research and intellectual property. Again in 2005 we discovered that transplanting neural stem cells into animals with spinal cord injury led to the recovery of motor function.
More recently, we succeeded in restoring motor function by transplanting neural stem cells made for human iPS cells. In 2009 we succeeded in producing the world’s first genetically modified marmoset. This research enabled the successful production of model animal models for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. This system is being used to elucidate the pathogenesis of these diseases and the development of drugs for their treatment.
We are using marmosets to produce animal models because these small primates are closely related to humans. There is a high probability that treatments that are successful with marmoset models could be developed for the medical treatment of humans.
Discoveries and highlights of research
Animal experiments show that administration of drugs leads to the acute development of Parkinson’s disease. But in realty the development of Parkinson’s is a much slower process over time. In our research, we reproduce accurate animal models by introducing genes responsible for Parkinson’s disease into fertilized eggs and forcing expression of the disease. This approach enables us to image and understand abnormalities before the onset of motor symptoms and we use the observations to predict the first symptoms signaling the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
I expect that our research to lead to the development of drugs to delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease. So we will continue our research to produce primate models for the development of medical treatments.
Research at the Kawasaki KING SKYFRONT
The model animals for Alzheimer’s disease were produced and nurtured at the Kawasaki KING SKYFRONT. I would like the KING SKYFRONT to act as a hub where the world’s leading researchers can come to conduct experiments using our animal models. The KING SKYFRONT is located very close to Tokyo International Airport, also known as Haneda airport. I would to see KING SKYFRONT become a thriving hub for international research in the life sciences, medical diagnostics, and patient treatment.
Mapping the functions and structure of the brain is an important area of research in the future. In the USS the Obama administration has allocated funding for the Brain Initiative. In Japan we are thinking about using monkeys, which are very closely related to humans, to deepen our understanding of the brain. The ‘Brain Initiative Japan’ project will be launched soon, in which KING SKYFRONT will play a central role.
Research at KING SKYFRONT is at the cutting edge of innovative medical care based on an interdisciplinary approach. The Central Institute for Experimental Animals (CIEA), University of Tokyo, Life Science & Environment research center (LiSE), and safety administration agencies are establishing themselves here. These institutes will soon be joined by the Japan Radioisotope Association (JRA), which will enable imaging. The addition of a medical institute for cutting edge medical care will produce a unique hub at the KING SKYFRONT enabling activities from basic research to clinical applications.
The proximity of Haneda airport makes KING SKYFRONT a truly international hub with a global reach for research in the life sciences as well as training staff and treatment of patients.