Japanese Innovations in Health

Japanese Innovations in Health

Japan is a leader in medical innovation. The country is home to numerous doctors, scientists, and professors, who through University funded or independent research, dedicate their time and effort to inventing new surgeries, procedures and technologies that can improve or save countless lives.


This success is helped by the Japanese public and private sectors, which invest heavily into medical research and innovation.

The following are just some of the medical breakthroughs that Japan has made.

Eradicating the Smallpox Virus

Over the last 30 years, the Japanese people have shown remarkable leadership in global health on many occasions. In 1980, for instance, the eradication of smallpox was achieved under the leadership of Dr. Isao Arita while he was Chief of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Smallpox Eradication Unit. In addition, the successful worldwide implementation of the DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment, Short-Course) strategy to treat tuberculosis (TB) in the 1990s was due in large part to Dr. Arata Kochi, who for ten years oversaw the WHO’s TB initiatives.

Healing Hearts with Myoblast Cells

A medical team led by Prof. Yoshiki Sawa at Osaka University succeeded in restoring functions to the diseased heart of a patient with severe cardiac arrest using muscle cells taken from the patient’s thighs. The team cultivated the cells and formed them into sheets about four centimeters wide and 0.05 millimeters thick and then wrapped the diseased heart with three layers of myoblast cells. After the treatment the pulse rate and quality of blood pumped from the heart all improved.

Combating Phantom Pain with Virtual Reality

A team led by Masahiko Sumitani, head of the department of pain and palliative medicine at the University of Tokyo Hospital, has succeeded in using Virtual Reality to treat phantom limb pain, a condition in which amputees or people with damaged nerves still feel pain from body parts that no longer exist.

Rehabilitating Paralysis

Japanese scientists have developed a brain-machine interface system that decodes and transmits signals from the brain to paralyzed limbs. With this system, patients who have made limited progress with conventional rehabilitation are recovering enough movement to resume some daily activities.

Combating Cancer with Nanomachines

Tiny devices developed in Japan are the latest weapons for fighting cancer. The second of a 2-part series features “nanomachines” that deliver medications directly to cancerous cells, along with a pill-sized endoscope that can detect cancer in hard-to-reach areas of the small intestine.

Creating New Organs through 3D Printing

3D printers turn computer data into three-dimensional objects. Advanced 3D printer technologies developed in Japan can create models that look and feel just like real organs. Doctors use the organ models for surgical training and to provide better care.

Researching Synthetic Blood

A team at Waseda University led by biochemist Eishun Tsuchida has developed completely synthetic blood. The only problem at this juncture is that the blood costs about $100,000 a liter to make. The secret is synthesizing the protein albumin using yeast as the basic material and as an alternative to hemoglobin. It is hoped that synthetic blood can one day replace real blood and has the advantage in that it can be used by people of all blood types. The Waseda team is currently working on developing methods to reduce the price of production.

Inventing Digestible Cameras

The Nagano-based RF Co. has produced a capsule-endoscope with a 360-degree rotating camera that can be swallowed and powered by a vest worn by the patient. The camera takes pictures from all angles as it travels through the digestive system.

Robots that can Communicate and Caregive

Researchers in Japan are turning to robots to help cope with a rapidly ageing society and a labor shortage in nursing care. One example is a “communication robot” that allows caregivers to remotely interact with and provide companionship for seniors. Engineers are also working on robots to watch over the elderly and provide them with assistance.

Developing Custom-made Bones

Japanese hospitals are running a clinical trial on the world’s first custom-made bones that would fit neatly into patients’ skulls and eventually give way to real bones. If successful, the Japanese method could open the way for doctors to create new bones within hours of an accident so long as the patient has electronic data on file. Doctors usually mend defective bones by transplanting real bones or ceramic substitutes. The Japanese implants use a powder of calcium phosphate, the substance that makes up real bones.


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