In order to realize our vision for the Center, the following three targets have been set and nine research and development projects have been established to achieve them.

[Target 1] Realization of a bioresource supply service for Society 5.0

[Target 2] Development of digital bio-application technologies for social implementation

[Target 3] Realization of an integrated product development platform to promote strategic market development

Research and Development Project 1:

Development of a Next-Generation Medical System by Constructing a Future-Integrated Medical Information Network

Hiroyuki Nishiyama

Research and Development Project Leader
Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tsukuba

・As a leading repository of human biological specimens, we will expand the on-demand transfer system to construct a link between -omics and genomic research by two core principles, namely “transfer of value-added, on-demand human biological specimens and information” and “utilization of human biological specimens for the development of cell therapy and regenerative medicine.”

・We will start a whole-genome, genetic diagnostic business integrated with health and cancer screening information.

・We will construct a future-integrated medical information network based on distributed medical information contained at multiple facilities by using data collaboration analysis technology.

・We will develop digital bio-application technologies for social implementation, aiming to elucidate the pathogenesis of multifactorial diseases and creating disease prediction models in collaboration with other research and development projects.

・We will contribute to product development and social implementation through an integrated research system using our two core principles.

・We will fuse real and digital worlds together to create new business models via COI-NECT to play a central role in the self-running project known as the “AI International Hub for the Formation of a World-Class Digital Bioeconomy Society in Tsukuba.”

Research and Development Project 2:

Establishing A Research Hub for Environmental Health/Medicine of Future Generations Utilising Digital Bio-Information and Artificial Intelligence

Shoji F. Nakayama

Deputy Director, Japan Environment and Children’s Study Programme Office
Head, Exposure Dynamics Research Section
Health and Environmental Risk Division
National Institute for Environmental Studies

This project aims to establish a research hub for environmental health/medicine of future generations to support securing healthy environment for reproduction and child-bearing utilizing biological samples and data resources obtained in the large-scale national cohort study ‘Japan Environment and Children’s Study (JECS)’.

In JECS, we have comprehensively collected data about education, socio-economic status, community, mental stress, and urban environment in addition to physical, chemical, and biological factors. Biological samples include maternal blood, urine, and breast milk from approximately 100,000 participants; paternal blood from about 50,000 participants; cord blood from 90,000 participants; and adolescent blood, urine, and teeth. These samples are being analysed for chemical substances that participants are likely exposed to. JECS data will be shared via data-sharing system in the near future. Combining these data and an artificial intelligence (AI) will establish an environmental health hub in which digitized data will be systematically analysed to unravel how the environment affects children’s health. Of note, by investigating fetal environmental exposure, the hub will help prevent developmental disorders, reducing economic loss due to such health problems by billions of dollars each year. The hub will also lead in developing wearable devices and smartphone apps to support healthy, safe, and environmentally sound consumptive behaviour.

Research and Development Project 3:

Construction of A Bioindustry Platform Using Biological Resources and Genome Editing Technology

Satoru Takahashi

Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tsukuba

The Tsukuba area is home to the RIKEN BioResource Institute, the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, the National Institute of Biomedical Innovation, and the Primate Medical Research Center, among the largest bioresources in the world. In addition, the Transborder Medical Research Center at the University of Tsukuba has developed a novel genome editing technology, using CRISPR/Cas9, and is conducting joint research on genome editing for these biological resources in collaboration with the RIKEN BioResource Center and the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization. By selecting the most suitable organisms from the world’s largest bioresources and genomically modifying them, we will develop the most suitable organisms for each industry and form the basis of an international center for a digital bioeconomy using optimized biological stock.

Research and Development Project 4:

Rapid Breeding of Functional Agricultural Products Using AI for the Realization of Well-Being

Mari Maeda-Yamamoto

Principal Scientist, National Agriculture and Food Research Organization

In this research project, we will focus on ‘Mibyo’, physical condition before the onset of disease, especially ‘Minor Health Complaints (MHC)’, which are thought to be the beginning of various diseases and cause a decline in productivity. In order to realize a bioresource supply service, we will conduct chemical analysis of nutritional and functional components that improve MHC by utilizing the research results of observational studies that have been conducted so far, and produce target crops with the genetic resources and agricultural products owned by the NARO, which are promising as materials for home meal or ready-made meal. 

Research and Development Project 5:

Development and Functional Evaluation of Innovative Food and Drug Resources

Hiroko Isoda

Professor, Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences,
University of Tsukuba

In recent years, the prevalence of major lifestyle-related diseases, such as cancer, stroke, acute myocardial infarction, diabetes mellitus, and mental illness, has been increasing rapidly. In addition to the development of therapeutic agents, there has been a growing social demand to extend efforts to prevent the psychiatric and neurological diseases such as depression and dementia as well as lifestyle-linked diseases such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. 

Bioactive compounds derived from natural products are attracting much attention as an important source of novel therapeutic and preventive agents. In the field of drug discovery, to develop potential drug candidates from natural compounds, diversity of resources and well-established infrastructure to speed up the discovery are equally important. However, there are not many research groups that are equipped with both.

To meet the increasing social demands efficiently, we will promote this research and development project by integrating ‘digital biotechnology’ (in collaboration with other projects) for the prediction of functionality and ‘bioassay systems’ for the evaluation and confirmation of functionality.  

We are planning to conduct the following: 

– Exploring active ingredients with verified functionality in agricultural products using more than 40 bioassay systems developed by our research group and compiling a database (in collaboration with Project 4). 

–  Incorporating AI-based functional prediction systems to verify the functionality of the newly identified bioactive compounds and the high throughput screening of functional compounds developed by material conversion technology (in collaboration with Project 6). 

– The effectiveness of the functional compounds, which are identified through bioassay systems and AI-based platforms, will be evaluated using the following measures: 

1) Using various human-derived tissues provided by The Tsukuba Human Tissue Biobank Center (THB), University of Tsukuba Hospital (in collaboration with Project 1). 

2) Pre-clinical testing in animal models of diseases using mice, etc.  

3) Verification of efficacy by conducting human clinical trials (in collaboration with the Project 7) 

– Finally, we will contribute to and strengthen the ecosystem for the social implementation of research innovations through a venture company. 

In addition, through this research and development project, we aim to incorporate the cutting-edge AI technologies into the existing bioassay system, improve the performance, and expand the scope of the system. Thus, we will develop an innovative functional evaluation system that better meets the current needs of the society. 

This way, we will establish an integrated and comprehensive product development platform and will create a borderless and seamless expansion of our functional analysis platform through promoting strategic market development towards social implementation. 

Research and Development Project 6:

Innovative Food and Drug Resource Engineering Technology to Support a Society of Well-Being

Kazuhiko Sato

Director, Interdisciplinary Research Center for Catalytic Chemistry
The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology

In this project, we will utilize one of the world’s largest bioresource data repositories, here in  Tsukuba, to analyze the correlation between the structure, function, and mechanism of functional food molecules using AI and develop a system to predict function from structure and vice versa. In collaboration with evaluation projects, we will develop technologies to extract, convert, and manufacture functional food molecules with promising capabilities from inexpensive food resources. These will be integrated into society as functional foods, pharmaceuticals, and health care products while we build a platform for integrated product development as described in Target 3.

Research and Development Project 7:

Formation of a Social Implementation Base with An Evidence Generation Platform Using a Future-Integrated Medical Information Network Based on A Large-Scale Cohort

Tomohiro Okura

Professor, Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Tsukuba

Based on data seeds from a large-scale cohort of tens of thousands of residents and a database of medical and nursing information on prevalent diseases, we will generate clinical evidence from these data by digital science and functionalize it through lifestyle intervention studies. Based on these results, we will develop tailor-made prevention and improvement programs and establish a mechanism for social implementation through the establishment of venture companies. In order to achieve the above, three sub-tasks will be set.

7-1: Establishment of a large-scale “Happiness Life” cohort of residents and a database of medical and nursing information on sick people.

7-2: Generate clinical evidence using digital science and demonstrate it through lifestyle intervention RCTs (randomized controlled trials).

7-3: Establishment of a system to provide preventive and remedial services to unwell (patients) suffering from various disease risk factors (social implementation).

Research and Development Project 8:

Establishment of a Next-Generation Lipid Research Center for a Well-Being Society Based on the Understanding Regulation of Lipid Biology 

Hitoshi Shimano

Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tsukuba

Lipids, which are thought to exist counting more than 40,000 species, are fundamental components of all life forms and are involved in various biological phenomena, including energy metabolism and sources, regeneration, inflammation, cancer, neuronal activity, and cellular stresses. In addition, it is being revealed that abnormality of lipids plays a leading role in the pathogenesis of various diseases in a unique way distinct from the central dogma of the molecular biology, in a multifaceted manner through collaboration with various research fields. These facts, in an academic sense, indicate that lipid research not only contributes to the development of the life science research fields, but also shows an interdisciplinary aspect that gives rise to a multitude of collaborative creations both in the academia and in the real world. 

Therefore, in order to realize a society that supports the well-being of all generations of human beings, which is the goal of the Tsukuba Digital-Bio International Center, we intend to establish a center of excellence for next-generation lipid research as a part of this core center together with other participants, and build the world’s highest basic research infrastructure. 

Research and Development Project 9:

Development of Infection Control Technology Using Future Integrated Medical Information Network and Robot Technology

Atsushi Kawaguchi

Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tsukuba

By applying digital biotechnology, we aim to elucidate the pathogenesis of high-impact viral infections, such as COVID-19 and influenza, while developing technology to both prevent severe infections and test for emerging infectious diseases using robotics. The goal of this project is to eliminate anxiety about emerging viral infections and create a society of well-being for all generations.