Prof. Yoshio Minabe
The issue of "problems in the mind of the child" has recently gained major public interest, both within Japan and worldwide. This is one of the most important issues facing our community in the 21st century, among which include serious problems such as declining birthrate, population decline, child maltreatment, and the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder, which a recent epidemiologic study has revealed to be around 1%–2% of the population (more than 1 million people in the Japanese population). In recognition of this, the United Nations established April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day. In addition, recently, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare appointed November as Child Abuse Prevention Promotion month in Japan.
Kanazawa University has been involved in addressing these problems from a very early stage. We have conducted many large-scale projects on related subjects, sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). These include the Hokuriku Health Creation Cluster project (project leader, Prof. Yoshio Minabe, psychiatrist) funded through the Japan Science and Technology agency (JST); the Center of Excellence (COE) program on Innovative Brain Science for Development, Learning and Memory (Prof. Haruhiro Higashida, neurochemist) through MEXT; the opening of the Research Center for Child Mental Development in the Clinical Department for Adolescent Psychiatry in our university; establishment of the united Graduate School of Child Development of Osaka University, Kanazawa University, Hamamatsu University School of Medicine, Chiba University, and Fukui University; a grant for integrating autistic patients into our society funded by the Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society, JST (Prof. Manabu Oi, pedagogy); an Institutional Program for Young Researcher Overseas Visit in the field of Social Behavior and Memory sponsored by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Prof. Masayoshi Shibata, philosopher). Since 2004, these projects in various fields, led by Kanazawa University, have established a research unit and core curriculum dealing with the importance of children’s mental health care.
We are pleased to report that as of 2012, MEXT recognized the Kanazawa University Research Center for Child Mental Development as a long-lasting research unit, switching the Center’s running cost from yearly funding to the general revenue of Kanazawa University. In addition, we received several grants on the trust of the national basic research and development promotion system. One of them is the Strategic Research Program for Brain Sciences program on autism spectrum disorder granted by Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED). As a part of this program, our research center studied in cooperation with three other universities on the ridge residence on the child psychiatry. In particular, we conducted clinical trials of oxytocin for patients with autism spectrum disorder and comorbid intellectual disabilities, the first of its kind (headed by Prof. Toshio Munesue, adolescent psychiatrist). This neuroendocrinological study, funded by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, aimed to assess newly developed chemicals related to oxytocin for use in clinical applications . Finally, Professors Minabe and Mitsuru Kikuchi are providing key developments in the fields of physiology and pathology with their project visualizing (imaging) the brain network in healthy and autistic children using Magnetoencephalography (MEG), as a part of a Center of Innovation Program (COI stream) started in 2013.
Furthermore, one of the MEXT trust businesses on the "All Children Project” has started, in which the United Graduate School for Child Development, including us as the core unit, has played a key role for infant and child development since 2015. In the program, we aim to apply results in the medical neuroscience field to the educational front in elementary and high schools, in which autistic subjects are not always treated scientifically. We intend to complete field work in the Komatsu district of Ishikawa on the educational problems related to mental disorders. Recently, the Ricoh Corporation has taken over the Kanazawa base of the MEG business, which the Yokogawa Electric Corporation had run until this year. Happily enough, the company is intending to expand and enlarge its business. In the MEG system, we find this business to be “one of the kindest to children". Therefore, we endeavor to significantly contribute to education in Komatsu with our MEG technology of the Ricoh Corporation.
In addition, in collaboration with Ricoh and PFU, we intend to develop a new MEG and MRI system, which could potentially be used for autism diagnosis. In pursuit of this goal, the above COI stream project assists us to develop tools that can be implemented in society. One tool that has already been developed is a electroencephalography recorder attached on the forehead as a dressing pad. This tool enables us to measure brain electrical activities without stress and for a long time. It may be possible to understand such signals in conjunction with autistic behavior in the future. We also became able to measure the bioactivities of autistic patients with a new but yet un-commercialized IT machine. This research is only possible thanks to national, large-scale funding.
Traditionally, Kanazawa University has made its name based on cooperative activities between the fields of the humanities, such as an ethics, education, welfare, and natural sciences such as biology, medicine, and engineering. Our research achieves sophisticated depth by using a fusion of various scientific fields. This approach is evident in the field of children’s mental health, as seen in the above activities. Moreover, in the doctoral course in the graduate school, we train young investigators who work in this cooperation between care sciences field. At the Kanazawa campus in the United Graduate School, researchers in the basic medical sciences, clinical sciences, and educational sciences are involved in education (lectures and practice) on mental sciences, social behaviors, psychiatry and pragmatics (a subfield of linguistics and semiotics). Specially, our education uses industry¬–university cooperation to promote not only advances in business but also enlightenment of the citizen participant. Furthermore, I strongly believe the United Graduate School system represents the future frontier of university education.
Here, I would like to talk about my own background and opinion of this program. My study was focused on PET scanning and MEG monitoring of the brain as a psychiatrist. The PET study was carried out at Hamamatsu Medical University School of Medicine for approximately six years from 2001. The MEG brain imaging study was started mainly in Kanazawa University, from 2007 to the present. I have determined that it is very important to embrace industry–university cooperation for this kind of work. The above collaborative investigations were successfully performed with Hamamatsu Photonics, Hamamatsu, and Yokogawa Electric Corporation, Kanazawa. Both are globally recognized companies in their fields. Therefore, I believe this to be a unique study, possibly "only one" in the world. From now, since I strongly think that we can only survive through such collaboration, I will try to persuade our institute to encourage research with a strong university–industry cooperation mindset. If so, it will make us, a university located in a middle-sized city far from the major cities in Japan, a candidate for centralized investment, which is sometimes given to influential universities.
Recent medical progress is remarkable. For instance, in the field of brain science, the structure and function of the living brain "is visible" in detail using modern technologies. I, who graduated from medical school approximately 35 years ago, thought electrical encephalography was the only tool to objectively observe brain activities. This is surprising to me, and I sincerely think that MRI and MEG are special miracles; indeed, they represent “progress even greater than a God-sent miracle ". Unfortunately, however, there is a group of people who is unable to receive the benefit of such imaging technologies. They are children too young to yet attend school, because such young subjects are unable to keep a fixed posture for a long time during recordings and are prohibited from the use of a radio isotope. However, monitoring brain activity using our MEG with a child-customized sensor, which is the only machine in Japan and one of three in the entire world, makes this possible for young boys and girls. For more detail regarding such benefits, please visit the homepage of our Research Institute, where you may observe the real effects of our technology and high level of our studies.
Finally, I ask all of you for kind advice and encouragement to our center. This concludes my greeting on behalf of the Kanazawa University Research Center for Child Mental Development for the year 2017.