Founding the “Waseda of the Future” through development in the fields of medicine and life.

Waseda University was the first private university to be selected by Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for the "Super Centre of Excellence" program. This is a review article for the program which ends in 2009.

Consolidated Research Institute for Advanced Science and Medical Care, Waseda University (ASMeW)
(In 2004, selected for Special Coordination Funds for Promoting Science and Technology under the Program for the Strategic Development of Research Centers)

In June of 2004, Waseda University was the first private university to be selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for Special Coordination Funds for Promoting Science and Technology under the Program for the Strategic Development of Research Centers. Through the excellent vision and leadership of organizational directors, this program aims to advance organizational reform at universities and R&D institutions in order to produce outstanding personnel and develop research centers which have international appeal. This program, which is also known as the “Super COE Program”, has the largest scale of any of the MEXT’s research grant programs.

The environment which surrounds universities is becoming increasingly severe. Birth rates continue to decline, and we have greeted an “age of university open admission” in which the population of 18-year-olds is lower than the student capacity of universities. On the other hand, universities are expected to make significant contributions to Japan’s status as a world leader in science and technology, as well as contributions to industrial-academic alliances. MEXT has implemented the COE Program as a policy to form “outstanding education and research centers (COE = Center of Excellence)” by focusing the allocation of capital to research centers selected through competition between universities. Among the COE Programs, the Super COE Program was started in 2001 to provide strong support for organizational and management reforms at universities from the aspects of both systems and capital.

Within this competition between universities, Waseda University has conducted as many reforms as possible in order to demonstrate global education and research ability that ranks together with top level national universities such as the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University. As a result of these reforms, Waseda has already achieved a number of selections to the 21st Century COE Program and Global COE Program. Among these selections, the selection as a Super COE Program is an unparalleled opportunity to advance organizational reforms leading to the future university vision that has been conceived by Waseda University.

2008 marks the final year of the 5 year project for the Super COE Program. We discussed the progress and actions of the project with Professor Tetsuya Osaka of the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Professor Tetsuya serves as Director of the Consolidated Research Institute for Advanced Science and Medical Care (ASMeW), which was selected for the Super COE Program.

Health and medicine - combining contradictory words

Even among the series of COE Programs, the budget of the Super COE Program is extremely large. Only 2 or 3 research centers from throughout Japan are selected per year for the Super COE Program. The Preparatory Committee, which is headed by President Shirai, reached a general agreement that the opportunity provided by this unparalleled grant should be utilized to establish an education and research center in the field of medicine, which has been an issue at our university for many years. However, lively debate continued until the end regarding the core concept of this project.

“Intense debate continued until the day that the project application was submitted. In the end, we reached the conclusion that, in order to imbue the project with qualities unique to Waseda, the concept of “health” must be integrated into advanced science and medicine. Our decision was to create a comprehensive center for interdisciplinary research, one that includes human and social sciences in addition to physical sciences and engineering.

The concept of QOL (Quality of Life) is essential to the discussion of future medicine. This is an age where medicine is considered from the perspective of “how can we live as healthily as possible?” While the phrase “preventive medicine” already exists, we have created the phrase “health medicine”. In this phrase, we have actually combined two contradictory words, and placed these words in the name of the research institute.” (Professor Osaka)

In this way, the Consolidated Research Institute for Advanced Science and Medical Care, Waseda University (ASMeW) was established. The abbreviation “ASMeW” is a reference to the Japanese words “asu (tomorrow)” and “miyu (to see)”, and expresses the vision for Waseda’s future.

Upon entering 2004, selection of the project was confirmed and preparation began immediately. “In any case, the project scale for the Super COE Program is equivalent to establishing an entirely new undergraduate school, so there was some trouble preparing a location and facilities.” (Professor Osaka)

A decision was reached that the project institute should be established on the Waseda campus. A gymnasium that was formerly used for athletic activities and other events was reformed through rapid construction work, and a “Super Open Laboratory (SLO)” as established that included a clean room, a biochemistry laboratory, and an incubation room.

150 academic staff members gathered from across different undergraduate schools

Firstly, personnel from related fields were gathered from both inside and outside the university. A large organization has been formed which holds a total of more than 150 researchers. Current participants in the project include slightly more than 40 young researchers with post-doctoral terms; 70 professors gathered from across different undergraduate schools of the entire university, with a focus on engineering, sports science, and human sciences; and approximately 40 part-time visiting faculty members from outside of the university.

The following eight research domains were established as research fields: nano IT, medical robotics, medical measurement, molecular medicine, regenerative medicine, health medicine, bioinformatics, and clinical medicine. Currently, the educational domain of biological ethics has been added as the ninth domain.

Furthermore, separate from theses research domains, the following five priority research fields were established as an axis for action towards practical application: advancement of medical support technology, development of technology for drug discovery, development of sensors for diagnosis and monitoring, anti-aging and regeneration of physical ability, and promotion of health/prevention of lifestyle diseases.

From 2006, a unique system of research project grants was started, focusing on participants of the institution. “Our foremost goal is to increase the sense of participation held by members. University academic faculty members are each involved in research activities using external research capital that they have procured themselves. Therefore, it is difficult to obtain their interest regarding the goals of an organization as a whole. In response to this problem, we developed a unique system of research project grants with the aim of members voluntarily starting ASMeW research projects.” (Professor Osaka)

This aim was right on target, and research themes have been actively proposed. 35 projects were started in 2006, and another 37 projects were started in 2007.

As opposed to conventional undergraduate schools and graduate schools, this system design serves as the basis for a gradual increase in activities and in the sense of collectiveness as a project-type education and research institution. At the same time, there is a tangible ripple effect throughout the university. Reforms of undergraduate and graduate schools involved in science and engineering was performed in conjunction with the Super COE project. In April of 2007, through the initiative of academic staff at ASMeW, a new major entitled “Medical Bio-Science” was established in the Graduate School of Advanced Science and Engineering, Faculty of Science and Engineering.

Furthermore, in March of 2008, the research and education institution “TWIns” was opened through a partnership with Tokyo Women's Medical University. Professor Mitsuo Umezu, who serves as Assistant Director of ASMeW, assumed the position of Director at the Institution for Advanced Biomedical Sciences, the research institution which composes the Waseda side of the TWIns project. TWIns possesses an inspiring research environment where the laboratories of both Tokyo Women's Medical University and Waseda University co-exist within the same building, and is a dynamic attempt to integrate medicine, science, and engineering.*

(*) Introduced in Waseda Research Zone No. 4 “TWIns Changes the Fusion of Medicine, Science, and Engineering”

“In rapid succession, ASMeW has fulfilled the missions that it has raised, such as establishing a new major in the field of medicine and biology, as well as the formation of a comprehensive research institution. I feel that we have fulfilled our intended aim of accelerating reforms at Waseda University.” (Professor Osaka)

Developing super leaders who will carry the next generation

On of the pillars of ASMeW is the development of professionals who will become research leaders of the next generation. From the very start, a feature of these activities was the creation of “STO (Super Technology Officer)”, which is a program for the development of young researchers. This unique program of Waseda University seeks to create professionals that will serve as models of one pinnacle in the science and engineering career path. Such professionals combine a background in technological management with specialized academic knowledge and experience. They envision and lead industrial-academic alliances and large-scale international research projects.

Specifically, applicants who qualify for the STO Education Program seek to obtain an MBA from the Graduate School of Management at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies. Also, they develop the qualities required for an international research leader while gaining the experiencing of exerting leadership in the formation of an overseas research network. Upon considering the success of each individual in these activities, ASMeW awards STO certification. As of December of 2008, 11 individuals have acquired STO certification.

“Absolutely no preferential treatment is given to individuals who have already received their Doctorate in another field. It is very difficult to obtain an MBA while being involved in research in ASMeW, but everyone involved in the program is doing their best.” (Professor Osaka)

The performance of these young researches is contributing to the establishment of position as an international research institution. Partnerships are being formed with universities and research organizations throughout the world, such as Harvard University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the University of Bonn, and the University of Rome. Also, world-famous researches are invited to the institution, and actions are being taken to create an international institution that operates at a world-leading level.

In one area of TWIns, the joint institution with Tokyo Women's Medical University which was introduced previously in this article, ASMeW possesses a space of approximately 700 square meters. In the future, this space is scheduled to be used as one strategic base in the field of health and medicine, working on themes such as the expansion of bio venture and the expansion of international integrated research.

Also being advanced is the construction of joint graduate schools with other universities. Actions are already being taken for the realization of specific joint programs with the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and the University of Yamanashi. “In the future, our ultimate goal is the formation of a comprehensive graduate school that will be known as the ‘Consolidate Graduate School of Advanced Science and Medical Care’ (tentative name).” (Professor Osaka)

The 5 year project term as part of the Super COE Program will soon come to an end. However, there will never be an end to the mission embodied in the name ASMeW –“seeing the future of Waseda University”.

The Consolidated Research Institute for Advanced Science and Medical Care has been selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for Special Coordination Funds for Promoting Science and Technology under the Program for the Strategic Development of Research Centers (Super COE Program).
Consolidated Research Institute for Advanced Science and Medical Care, Waseda University
Waseda University Faculty of Science and Engineering

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Published: 06 Jan 2009


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