Aichi city backs regenerative medicine to revive local businesses

Chunichi Shimbun

The Gamagori Municipal Government in Aichi Prefecture and local businesses have joined hands to promote regenerative medicine in the city, hoping to turn it into a center for the emerging medical genre.

The joint public-private efforts have helped boost the city’s profile in medical circles, with a municipal hospital becoming a watchdog for proper regenerative medical practices and the city hosting a key conference on regenerative medicine.

Gamagori City Hospital in July became the nation’s first local government-operated medical institution to have set up a Certified Special Committee for Regenerative Medicine, which is authorized by the central government to audit proper planning of regenerative treatment at medical institutions.

On Aug. 29 and 30, 90 people involved in the medicine at businesses and universities gathered for dialogue and networking at the first Regenerative Medicine Summit, hosted by Japan Tissue Engineering Co. (J-TEC), a Gamagori-based medical startup.

At the end of the conference, practitioners and researchers adopted a declaration calling for safety standards in regenerative medicine to be maintained.

“The summit is not like an academic conference where researchers make presentations,” said Norio Sakakibara, the 43-year-old head of J-TEC’s business development division.

“There was camaraderie among participants, and they were united under the goal of bringing regenerative medicine forward. We were able to have discussions in ways that weren’t possible before.”

J-TEC is the driving force behind Gamagori’s drive to be a leader in regenerative medicine.

Established in 1999 by Nidek Corp., an ophthalmic medical device manufacturer headquartered in Gamagori, J-TEC is the only company in Japan that grows cultured skin and cartilage in-house and sells them.

“We are the only company that’s doing a real job in regenerative medicine in Japan,” said Yosuke Ozawa, the 51-year-old CEO of J-TEC.

Gamagori City Hospital’s bid to acquire certification for a regenerative medicine committee actually was the result of the company’s efforts.

The Act on the Safety of Regenerative Medicine came into effect last November, allowing hospitals to set up a committee that approves regenerative treatment plans.

The company soon approached the municipal government, the hospital’s operator, to apply for such a plan, which was immediately adopted with Mayor Shokichi Inaba setting the target of making Gamagori known as the city of regenerative medicine. J-TEC, which is still operating in the red, hopes to promote regenerative medicine in Japan, with Gamagori as the starting point — a strategy it believes will result in increased earnings.

“Once the city hospital establishes regenerative treatment services, patients will come to it from outside the prefecture or even from overseas, and that will bring us more business opportunities,” Ozawa said.

On its part, Gamagori City Hospital, which faces a shortage of doctors, hopes the newly established recognition will help attract more doctors.

The hospital currently employs 45 full-time doctors.

“The hospital will put in more effort in regenerative treatment to make (itself) more familiar (to patients),” said Yoshikazu Kawabe, head of the hospital. “This technology will save patients.

“We want to add 10 more doctors. We can use regenerative medicine as a standout factor when attracting candidates at medical universities,” he added.

The municipal government also hopes the new industry will help boost the regional economy, which needs a shot in the arm as its traditional key industry of tourism has dwindled.

“More companies will come to the city as recognition of Gamagori as the ‘town of regenerative medicine’ grows,” said Deputy Mayor Katsuaki Izawa.

The hospital is set to conduct its first skin transplant using cultured skin as early as this year, pending approval of its plans.

J-TEC and Gamagori plan to hold seminars by invited experts for residents and send children in the city to attend Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine meetings.

The city hopes to “regenerate” itself through the project.

Regenerative medicine is a type of treatment involving regeneration of lost tissues or organs to restore their normal functions.

J-TEC grows cultured skin and cartilage using the patients’ own cells, which reduces the risk of organ transplant rejection.

Also eyed are iPS stem cells, which can be transformed into various bodily cells.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Sept. 7.