HOME > Message from the Director
Director of Institute for Life and Medical Sciences, Kyoto University
Hiroshi Kawamoto

The Japanese name of our institute has been completely updated from “Virus-Saisei-Ikagaku Kenkyu-sho or Institute for Virus and Regenerative Medicine” to “I-Seibutsugaku Kenkyu-sho or Institute for Medical Biology” starting April, 2022. On the other hand, the formal English name of our institute has been just slightly adjusted from “Institute for Frontier Life and Medical Sciences” to “Institute for Life and Medical Sciences”, just deleting “Frontier”. I will explain how the original Japanese name and new name were given, and the thoughts put in the new Japanese name.

The process of integration of two institutes and renaming
Bofore explaining the renaming I first will outline the process. The Institute for Frontier Life and Medical Sciences was established in October 2016 by integrating the Institute for Virus Research (Virus-Kenkyu-sho) and the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences (Saisei-Ikagaku Kenkyu-sho). In general, reorganizations in the form of integration are often driven by negative factors such as scale reduction. In contrast, the current integration was only positively driven and represents an evolving integration. At the time of the integration, we of course had a vigorous discussion on the name of new institute. Initially, the core members of the institute and the headquarters of Kyoto University had decided that the names of both laboratories should just be lined up one after the other, for the time being. Subsequently, discussions continued regarding the new name after the integration, and the name was only changed just recently, five and a half years after the integration.

History up to integration
Prior to the integration, each institution had a strong presence in the academic world. The Institute for Virus Research, established in 1956, had led not only virology but also the whole field of molecular biology, and the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, originally established in 1941 as the Tuberculosis Research Institute, had led a wide range of fields including not only regenerative medicine but also immunology and bioengineering. For example, the Institute of Viruses has hosted Dr. Yorio Hinuma, who discovered the causative virus of adult T-cell leukemia (receiving an Order of Culture for it), and the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences had leading scholars like Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who invented iPS cells (receiving a Nobel Price for it), and Dr. Shimon Sakaguchi, who discovered regulatory T cells (receiving an Order of Culture for it).

Background that led to the integration
In recent years, life science has undergone major changes, and it has become difficult to be competitive in the academic field when conducting research activities solely by individual laboratories. To develop as a leading research institute, it is necessary to create a strategy by looking ahead of times, and to accordingly rebuild the organization, and to proceed with personnel affairs in line with the strategy. Such a strategy requires a certain size of personnel, and the integration has made it easier to pursue a new strategy. Currently, the number of full-time employees, faculty members, and professors, is about 300, 80, and 20, respectively. In terms of re-organizing the structure, since the time of the integration in 2016, we have newly established the “Department of Biosystem Sciences”, in addition to the Departments of virus research and Regenerative medicine. This “Department of Biosystem Sciences” is the core department that is expected to develop new academic fields. In accordance with this, we have been putting a lot of effort into personnel affairs, such as recruiting young professors majoring in structural biology or theoretical biology, which we think has been very successful up to now. These activities have been carried out mainly under the leadership of Professor Yuji Hiraki (previous director), and Professor Yoshio Koyanagi (former director), who were the directors of the existing research institutes at the time of the integration.

Thoughts put in the word “I-Seibutsu-gaku (Medical Biology)”
Many people have been involved in determining the new name of the institute “I-Seibutsu-gaku” (Medical Biology), and I think each one has had different thoughts. Even so, here I will describe my personal opinion by summarizing what I felt during the discussions. I think the name of the new research institute more or less sounds old-fashioned with the word “Seibutsu-gaku (Biology)”, since at present the word “Life Sciences” is often used for a similar meaning. Indeed, as it sounds, I think that this name proposes the idea of “emphasizing the viewpoint of biology”. For example, suppose one clarifies a part of the mechanism of the immune response caused by lymphocytes in mice. It can be said that it is a medical point of view to think about whether the same is true in human, how it is related to diseases, or how it leads to drug development, while it is from a biological point of view to think about whether the same is true in other animals, or what is the evolutionary origin of the mechanism. Recently, there is a tendency for research activities to require a so-called “exit” like the former examples, but the essence of research is to get answers to the intellectual curiosity of human beings, and I think that contains the fundamental fun of being a scientist. One actually can think that research that seeks fun is more likely to lead to a big leap than the one that seeks actual profit or impact.

Launch of a new “Joint Usage/Research Center”
Now, I will talk about the function of a so-called “Joint Center”. Many public research institutes also function as bases for providing equipment, facilities, research methods, materials etc., to domestic and foreign researchers. As a system, it is supported by the government as a “Joint Usage / Joint Research Center”, or a “Joint Center” for short. The former Regenerative Medicine Institute for Virus Research and Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences had exerted the functions of research bases for virus research and regenerative medicine, respectively, and the integrated research institute had separately maintained these base functions. Simultaneously with this renaming, the two joint centers have been integrated, and a new base called “Virus / Stem Cell System Medical Biology Joint Research Center” has been launched at the beginning of April, 2022. While the new name of the institute has been simplified to be short, the name of the new joint center has been lengthened by incorporating the roles it plays. As a core project of this center, we have established a system to financially support collaborations between the faculty members of this institute and external researchers by up to 1 million yen per case, and in 2022, we adopted 30 projects as a result of the open call for participants.

Although the function as joint center has been renewed in parallel with renaming of the center, the fundamental strategy that has been created after the integration will be inherited as it is, and thus we are not making any major re-organization related to the renaming. However, taking the opportunity to change the name, all the staff members will strive hard together in unison so as to lead the era, with a sense of ownership as a member of “the research institute that has built the history of biology”.