Although it was not very clear in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, we began to find out as two weeks went by and three weeks went by that the number of dead or missing people in all of Miyagi Prefecture was approaching 10,000. Of course, not only Miyagi but Iwate and Fukushima also suffered catastrophic damages. It was terrible as all of Tohoku was suffering from great pain. That was the timing when I thought to myself, Tohoku might not be able to get back on its feet through only recovery efforts that "fix what is broken."
So, all of us at the Graduate School of Medicine sat down together and discussed the future. As a university, essentially a hub of knowledge, how can we contribute to the reconstruction of the region? We cannot simply restore Tohoku to the way it was before. Isn't it important to commit "creative reconstruction," by which we will create something that goes beyond what was there before? Our opinions converged on this vision.
But what exactly are we ought to do? All kinds of opinions were put forth. Initially, the proposal to establish a hub for supporting pharmaceutical development was a strong contender. Some expressed the view, however, that pharmaceutical development would not allow the university to give its full attention to the victims of the disaster. What then should we do to give our full attention to and thoroughly watch over the affected people? The answer we arrived at was a long-term health study and the establishment of a biobank based on this study. To give our attention to and watch over the people in the affected areas, we will study and follow their health over a long period. This will be combined with supports for community medical services that have been disrupted, in other words, the dispatch of physicians. Furthermore, to enable the people in the Tohoku region to "make a living," we will create a biobank and establish research and industry hubs in genome medicine. Almost as if we were solving a simultaneous linear equation with three variables, we orchestrated a concept involving a genome cohort study and biobank development, in short, the ToMMo concept.
Our aspiration for orchestrating this concept was underpinned by a strong desire to fulfill our responsibility as a university located in the disaster area and nearest to the epicenter. Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine could have received funds from the government to refurbish the facilities that were destroyed, and restore the university to its original state. But would doing so equate to fulfilling our responsibility as a university in the disaster area that survived the great disaster? No, it does not. When nearly 10,000 people died or are missing, should we not do everything in our power for the entire region that was devastated by this disaster? This was the biggest motivation for proposing the Tohoku Medical Megabank.