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    Restoring community medical services from the Great East Japan Earthquake and establishing a large-scale medical information system


    The proposed Tohoku Medical Megabank Project was envisioned for two reasons: 1) to restore community medical services in the areas heavily damaged by the earthquake and tsunami disaster; and 2) to establish a brand-new medical system to meet the global trend towards large-scale medical information technology.

    Due to the catastrophic damage to many hospitals especially in coastal areas of the Tohoku region during the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, the majority of hospitals, medical professionals, and municipal workers are now turning all efforts towards repairing hospitals and recruiting more physicians and allied medical staff.

    Subsequently after 3.11, the Tohoku University School of Medicine urgently established a Comprehensive Training Center for Community Health for securing medical professionals. It also increased its enrollment limit for a certain period. Additionally, the Center for Community Health has begun taking measures to rebuild the healthcare system in affected areas.

    The School of Medicine is taking all emergency measures to cope with Tohoku's damaged medical system. To achieve full-fledged reconstruction, however, simply bringing back the functions lost due to the disaster is insufficient. In order to truly rebuild medical services, a single project is needed to serve as the centripetal force for reconstruction efforts; all the while responding to the harm that has come to the health of the residents of the entire region in the long-term.

    There is a notable decline of medical professionals in Tohoku and it has become alarmingly severe in more recent years. While it is essential to rebuild medical facilities in the region, we need to recruit personnel who will work at these rehabilitated medical facilities, which would prevent the outflow of medical practitioners, the most indispensable resource for reconstruction. It is inevitable, therefore, to propose a plan to develop a center of future-oriented medical services in Tohoku and to make it a driver for attracting medical practitioners.

    Tohoku Medical Megabank Project planned the Tohoku Medical Megabank Project Birth and Three-Generation Cohort Study and the Tohoku Medical Megabank Project Community-Based Cohort Study targeting mostly the earthquake-affected areas. The output of the project, in the form of a biobank, will be an essential foundation for future medical studies. Until recently, little has been known about 1) the differences between those who come down with and do not come down with the same illness while leading the same lifestyle, and 2) the differences between individuals who are either responsive or non-responsive to various forms of therapy. This limited knowledge in genomic epidemiology has led to increased awareness of the need to be able to diagnose individuals predisposed to certain diseases.

    Ever since the human genome has been decoded, it has gradually become apparent that the slightest differences in the genome sequence of individuals generate differences in "predisposition." Across the globe, medical projects making use of massive libraries of collected data have already been launched to decipher the relationships between genomic information and the environment, susceptibility to illness, and effectivity of therapy. Making sense of this massive pool of information is expected to pave the way for the next generation of medicine to contribute to public health services and to drive industries. In Japan, it has also been pointed out that more comprehensive and larger-scale projects need to be conducted moving forward based on the outcomes of preceding projects.