Nicole Gunawansa | December 2nd, 2015
This interview was held on May 25th, 2015 in the Tohoku Medical Megabank Building
Question 10: The government funding for disaster reconstruction will be limited starting in 2016. What does this means for ToMMo? How does ToMMo plan to sustain itself and grow in the years to come?
Dr. Yamamoto: The expected reduction in funding starting 2016 is not just affecting ToMMo. Biobank managers bemoan because the biobank and genome analysis is a longer term process, requiring twenty-thirty years to obtain genome-reflective, interpretable results. However, the nature of politics is not necessarily conducive for longitudinal research projects. I believe that good projects should be funded, and I hope to effectively communicate this with the Japanese government over the next several months. If the government still decides to reduce the budget, then ToMMo must reduce the number of assignment it is invested in seeing as this organization is funded by the disaster reconstruction budget. Nonetheless, ToMMo will continue, we will not be deterred from the pursuit of knowledge and improved medical care for the Japanese people.
Question 11: Although 3/11 was only 4 years ago, many Tohoku residents feel that people (domestically and internationally) have begun to forget about the disaster. What is your opinion on this? How should we continue to help those affected by the disaster as time passes?
Dr. Yamamoto: This should not happen. At least, ToMMo will not commit to this attitude and we will continue to help those suffered. The survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake are strong people who want to recover and stand by themselves. All of Japan needs to encourage these people in their journey, and ToMMo will support them by means of unwavering medical and health excellence. This organization will publically advocate for community, national, and international support of the disaster survivors in their recovery, no matter how long it takes.
Question 12: What additional projects would you like to see Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization take on in the future?
Dr. Yamamoto: The project that we are doing now keeps us really busy, but in the future we would like to develop our business to help patients, providing not only personalized healthcare but also personalized medicine. Those who come to clinics and hospitals with serious illness and disease could be helped by incorporating our genomic techniques to help diagnose and combat diseases. Right now we are a prospective operation cohort, but one day we can help treat and (hopefully) eradicate diseases by becoming involved in personalized medicine. However, in order to pursue this goal ToMMo needs to first establish good relations with various hospitals within the region, and that takes time. In addition, by using our cohort experience, ToMMo may one day be able to improve the customary health examination for the Japanese people. As of right now these examinations are quite standard (e.g. evaluating X-ray, ECG, MBI, blood biochemistry, etc…), but in the future it would be ideal if we could introduce Japonica Array to the system, thus providing genomic information in conjunction with the annual health screening.
Question 13: In what ways do you think you, or your work has changed from the time of the disaster? Additionally, how far do you think Japan has come since 3/11?
Dr. Yamamoto: As a molecular biologist, I want to know how the body is organized and regulated. As the Executive Director of ToMMo, I have come to appreciate my original field of study even more because I have realized that clinical and molecular genetics (seen in our cohort data) needs to be used in tandem with molecular biology. My position in ToMMo has furthered my personal interests in unexpected ways.
Japan is doing well, compared to where it was four years ago. Temporary housing is gradually changing to permanent housing and infrastructure is rapidly developing and reforming. Yet, I refrain from thinking that the recovery is almost complete. The Great East Japan Earthquake was a major disaster, yet reconstruction efforts have advanced in leaps and bounds. Nevertheless, as heavy construction related restoration comes to a close, we are now entering the second stage of the recovery efforts. The Japanese community and the field of disaster medicine now need to focus on supporting mental health and improving information technology (i.e. prevent another information blackout in a time of emergency) in order to appropriately protect the people of this nation from future disasters.
|Comments from the Interviewer
ToMMo’s complex domain of Big Data and Learning Health Systems was uncharted territory for me prior to arriving in Asia, but I have come to comprehend and appreciate this new approach to medicine through my work with ToMMo’s Public Relations and Planning Department. This interview series has given me the fortune of meeting inspiring disaster first-responders, dedicated physicians and researchers, and now the Executive Director of this unique institute. Interviewing Dr. Yamamoto provided great insight into the mechanics of the Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization and demonstrated the numerous ways this institution is structured to help the people of the devastated Tohoku region following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Revitalization of this area of Japan has been rapid, compared to other countries facing similar disaster situations, and ToMMo has played a vital role in this recovery process by promoting the economy, caring for the health of the community, and providing hope. Additionally, this organization is pioneering the genomic based approach to medicine in Japan, which is remarkable and progressive. It was fascinating to hear Dr. Yamamoto’s comments on this subject and to learn why this type of medicine was at the heart of the ToMMo project. Facilitating the transition to more personalized healthcare, genomics is the future of medicine, and it is splendid to see this organization so devoted to improving the lives of the Japanese people through this innovative approach.