Vol.4, Jun 2015
Nobuhiko Okabe, M.D., Ph.D.
Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health
Profile of Dr. Okabe, MD, Ph.D.
I am a pediatrician who has specialized in infectious diseases and preventative medicine. In addition to clinical experience at hospitals etc, I have also contributed for three and a half years as the Regional Advisor at the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office in Manila. Then, I returned to Japan and after working as a pediatrician at the Jikei University Hospital where I graduated, I took up a post as the Director of the Infectious Disease Surveillance Center at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) for 12 years. At the Center I mainly worked for the country on collecting , analysis disseminate infectious disease information (surveillance) , and fieldwork related to infectious diseases mainly contributing to matters related to health administration and clinical aspects of policies for diseases.
I also worked on risk analysis and methods for dealing with emerging diseases such as SARS, pandemic influenza, and Ebola. . After retiring from NIID, I joined Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health, where I am involved in more local issues related to health and environment.
Institute for Public Health
The Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health looks after the health issues of the residents of Kawasaki. The Institute is located within the Life Science and Environment Research Center (LiSE) at KING SKYFRONT, new frontier area of Kawasaki City.
Three main departments of the Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health
(1) Physics and Chemistry sciences section
The Physics and Chemistry Sciences section performs many laboratory tests such as for materials that could be the cause of food poisoning and detection of radiation in food. We also check that drinking water satisfies our standards.
(2) Micro-Organisms Section
The micro-organisms section identifies sources of food poisoning. This section also carries out tests on people during outbreaks of diseases such as dengue fever that affected people in central Tokyo in 2014. Kawasaki City has been monitoring mosquitoes that may transmit dengue fever and other vector-born diseases for a decade or more
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that measles has almost been eliminated within Japan.. This Institute conducts surveys on patients showing possible symptoms of measles to determine whether they are actually carrying the measles virus, in which case we conduct tests to identify the genetic-type of the virus. We also conduct tests on tuberculosis and HIV.
(3) Infectious Disease Surveillance Center
The Infectious Disease Surveillance Center section distributes up to date information about infectious diseases. Staff at Kawasaki City Public Health Institute collect and analyze information from medical doctors working and diagnosing patients at the frontline of outbreaks of infections and disseminate these information to medical institutes, health administration institutes This information is regularly distributed as ‘infectious disease information about Kawasaki’, and can be obtained by members of the general public, media from the relevant websites.
Institute for Research and Public Health
In addition to fulfilling its three main missions, the research center also conducts research studies. The base is for ‘public health’. If we only conducted basic research then we would no longer be an institute of public health. We continuously implement new ideas in our efforts on public health. It is not simply routine work. It is important to understand this aspect of our activities is important because otherwise we would be just a ‘testing institute’. Our new and innovative ideas are important for the future of the institute. In addition to these missions, the staff at Kawasaki City Public Health Institute also conduct research studies.
The staff at Kawasaki City Public Health Institute interacts with other research institutes located at KING SKYFRONT in the Tonomachi area of Kawasaki. Our role is to search for new potential areas of research in public health with local companies.
Development of the DNA chip for bio-screening
When food poisoning occurs, we must investigate rapidly. But current official methods stipulated by the government take time. Such detailed tests take more than five days.
But for effective screening, such tests must be carried out in within hours.
It is necessary to act swiftly with screening to deal in the case of the outbreak of food poisoning and infectious disease.
DNA testing could be done on one ‘microtip’ then it would connect to rapid diagnostics. So the aim was the development of such rapid diagnostic technology for DNA testing of potentially poisonous food.
The Tohoku Earthquake in March 2011 led to the development of a screening kit.
To prevent the outbreak of food poisoning in shelters, quick portable testing is necessary. There were mutual areas of interested between us and industry. So Kawasaki City signed a contract with an industrial partner based in Kawasaki city. Then resulting DNA chip and measurement system was produced for simultaneous, rapid testing of several tens of microbes in less than one hour. This technology was developed by sharing know how with the industrial partner. It will have a high impact for managing public health.
Kawasaki City Institute for Research and Public Health and diseases carried by mosquitoes
Dengue fever was known in Japan during the Taisho era (1912-1926). There was a dengue fever epidemic towards the end of World War Two after which it disappeared. But later on, there were sometimes cases of dengue fever as an “imported disease”. But with time, the disease stopped spreading in Japan. The recent case of dengue fever mainly in central Tokyo was the first case in 70 years. Other important diseases to monitor that may be carried by mosquitoes are West Nile fever, malaria, and Japanese Encephalitis. Such diseases are important from both medical and public health points of view.
In Kawasaki City we have been monitoring 7 to 8 locations throughout the city for mosquitoes for tens of years using mosquito traps. The Public Health Institute needs to prepare the countermeasures for dealing with diseases all the time. This is important for the health and safety of the residents of Kawasaki.
‘International’ is the keyword in KING SKYFRONT.
So we must monitor diseases that do not exist in Japan so far but may be imported from abroad. As an international front we want to look beyond the borders of the city and country. It is necessary to have a wide perspective on health and sources of people’s illness.
Advantage of Staying Close
I think that it is important that many researchers from different backgrounds are based at KING SKYFRONT. We are connected as partners in “One World, One Health”.
Health is common to many different areas of research. We want to investigate this common theme of health. Our research center has sections specializing in microorganisms, physics/chemistry, and surveillance. We are small but we are ‘one world, one health’. We want to contribute to the development of KING SKYFRONT.