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独立行政法人理化学研究所 神戸研究所
分子イメージング科学研究センター センター長 渡辺 恭良
Yasuyoshi WATANABE
RIKEN Center for Molecular Imaging Science

Molecular imaging is a multidisciplinary field integrating chemistry, life sciences, physics, engineering, computer sciences, medical sciences and pharmaceutical sciences. It also serves an important role as a bridge between molecular and integrated systems and between basic and clinical research. Given the recent, large paradigm shift in drug discovery, molecular imaging will undoubtedly become a core research area that advances evidence-based medicine.

Although the word 'imaging' often refers to graphic images, molecular imaging is not simply qualitative in nature. Rather, it utilizes sophisticated technology to quantitatively explore target molecules throughout the whole biological body, while retaining the natural function. Hence, molecular imaging involves numerous innovative aspects that are expected to revolutionize the wide variety of tracking technologies that have been developed to date. Additionally, since there are major interspecies differences in targeted deliverability and pharmacokinetics of drug molecules -- not only in blood, but also in organs and cells -- between humans and small laboratory animals, there is demand for the early and safe application of straightforward research that explores the true pharmacokinetics in humans. Therefore, a national network of researchers in multiple research areas is essential for the advancement of molecular imaging research through the development of research talent and human resources that will propel advances in this new multidisciplinary field.

Over the past two decades, we have made proactive efforts in molecular imaging research within the framework of national projects, including the Subfemtomole Biorecognition Project conducted under the International Cooperative Research Project (ICORP) sponsored by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), and in the project for In vivo Molecular Science for Discovery of New Biofunctions and Pharmaceutical Drugs, which is sponsored by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). We have developed many novel probes for molecular imaging — contributing to drug discovery and to the development of diagnostic and therapeutic biomarkers.

In July 2005, the Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) launched the “Molecular Imaging Research Program” as an important part of its efforts to promote research and development in life sciences that respond to genuine societal needs. Since then, RIKEN has been striving to establish a core center for drug development and molecular imaging. In the fall of 2006, the Kobe MI R&D Center Building was completed with the support of the Kobe municipal government and others, and it now houses the RIKEN facility for the Molecular Imaging Research Program (MIRP).

The MIRP was reorganized and inaugurated as the Center for Molecular Imaging Science (CMIS) in October 2008 to further advance research, and currently comprises of six teams and three units.

During the first phase of the “Molecular Imaging Research Program”, we not only worked to develop fundamental technologies, but also established a nationwide research network through collaborative research with different institutes. We have contributed to innovations in drug discovery, diagnostics, and therapeutic biomarkers through developing many novel molecular probes that target lifestyle-related diseases and other conditions.

Furthermore, from April 2010, the “Strategic Research Program for Molecular Imaging” will be initiated by MEXT to link the research achievements made thus far to clinical applications and experimental research. And the CMIS is expected to play a leading role as a core center in this initiative. In order to further promote Japan’s molecular imaging research and develop an international collaborative research network, we are committed to carrying out research with the aim to establish innovative medical technology, such as drug development and preventative medicine (early diagnosis and early treatment) that incorporates molecular imaging. We hope that readers find this brochure enlightening with regard to the research conducted at CMIS, and that they will guide and support our efforts.


渡辺 恭良