Norio Nakatsuji

World Premier International Research Center (WPI) Initiative
Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS)
A project to create a model for premier global research centers in Japan

1. Overview

Photo of Nakatsuji
Director : Prof. Norio NAKATSUJI

 Our new institute, iCeMS, aims to become a premier global research institute that creates interdisciplinary fields while inserting itself into the global flow of young scientists developing their careers. Leading scientists will gather in Kyoto and collaborate on the synergistic integration of cell and material sciences, namely cell biology, chemistry and physics. Based on the principal that fundamental understanding and control of molecular complexes in the meso-scale of 5-100 nm is critical for creating nextgeneration science and technology, the iCeMS will focus on pluripotent stem (ES and iPS) cells and meso-control.

 We will take cross-disciplinary approaches to create the following new science fields and applications stemming from them: 1) new chemistry and physics of meso-space, 2) cellular mesobiophysics, and 3) stem-cell control by meso-engineering.

 We will further contribute to human wellness by developing A) environmentally-friendly chemistry through meso-control, B) detoxication and drug synthesis in the body, and C) regenerative medicine-using smart materials to control stem cells.

 Central to our intention to make the iCeMS a model for world-class research centers in Japan is our novel management system and the following initiatives.

1) Kyoto iCeMS Fellows (independent "super postdocs" ): International advertising and searching will turn our institute into a global career hub for the best and brightest young researchers.

2) Common-use laboratories and open offices will remove the physical and mental walls between research groups and enable flexible allocation of research spaces, thus promoting crossdisciplinary research among researchers from different fields.

3) The institute will provide special support for nurturing female researchers and preparing them for top-level positions in the sciences.

2. Purpose and Mission of the iCeMS

 The iCeMS project is our response to the Japanese government's initiative to found premier international research centers that will (1) explore interdisciplinary research fields, and (2) insert themselves into the global career-development flow of the most distinguished scientists of their generations.

 To address the first requirement, the exploration of interdisciplinary fields, our institute aims to gather a critical mass of leading scientists for the creation of a new research field: "integrated cellmaterial sciences." The fundamental understanding and control of molecular complexes in the meso-space of 5-100 nm is considered critical for creating the science and technology of the next generation.

 Therefore, meso-space is one of two key concepts in this project. Meso-space is greater than nano-space, which has been extensively explored by nano-technology and molecular biology. It is smaller than bulk space, which is greater than one micron and has sufficient numbers of molecules for ensemble averaging.
Between these two well-traveled lands lies the vast unexplored territory of mesospace: 5-100 nm. Although molecular, atomic, and ionic interactions occurring in nano-space are interesting research subjects, they are generally elementary processes. Non-linear, weakly-cooperative events, which present challenging problems and may seed tomorrow's technologies, take place in meso-space.

 Using the notion of meso-space, biological and non-biological worlds can cross-fertilize to learn from each other and elucidate the physical and chemical processes characteristic of meso-space, including the formation and functional mechanisms of meso-scale molecular complexes in the cell. We believe that such study will develop a new realm of science and technology within the crossdisciplinary nexus of biosciences, physics, chemistry, and materials science.

 The second key concept involves stem cells. Since our group of investigators will represent diverse backgrounds, we must establish a standard paradigm for studying the cell. Facilitating the sharing of knowledge on cells, biological tools, samples, and communication among researchers in different fields is indispensable for fostering collaborative research. For this purpose, all the principal investigators will use pluripotent stem cells, either embryonic or artificially induced. The genes of these rapidly growing cells are easily manipulated and can be differentiated into various cell lineages. Therefore, using pluripotent stem cells for research will accelerate the development of regenerative treatments.

 To address the requirement for the applying institution to place itself within the global career-development flow of young scientists, I affirm my abiding faith in Japanese science. The most critical problem that Japanese science facing today is its exclusion from the global flow of young scientists developing their careers. Unless we attract the best and brightest young researchers to Japan and induce some of them to stay, Japanese science will lag behind that of other developed countries. The first sentence of the call for applications extended by the Program Committee of the World Premier International Research Center (WPI) Initiative states, "We will need to position ourselves within the global flow of outstanding human resources while creating research platforms that will naturally attract and amass such human resources in Japan."

3. Administration Programs and Goals

 We will run the institute as a model for future research centers at Kyoto University and around Japan. Occupying a special position within the organizational structure of Kyoto University, it will introduce flexible management rules and exercise freedom from many constraints binding typical Japanese universities.
Although the director will report directly to the president of Kyoto University, the institute is assured of autonomy and the director is authorized to make decisions on overall operation.

 The following are examples of our novel administration policy. 1) The official language will be English. 2) The director will make decisions swiftly, major ones with the aid of the institute's executive board. 3) The salary system will be merit based. 4) Open positions for scientists will be announced and advertised internationally. 5) Start-up funds for researchers arriving from other institutions will be provided.

 We will also create special programs for the iCeMS. Given Japan's geo-graphical, linguistic, and cultural barriers, even leading institutions carrying out cuttingedge research have difficulty attracting scientists from abroad. To improve this situation, the Institute will additionally implement the following programs and strategies.

1) Kyoto iCeMS Fellow Award (a career-development "super postdoc" system): We have created a careerdevelopment "super postdoc" system called the "Kyoto iCeMS Fellow" program to provide significant resources and autonomy to talented young researchers for their scientific development. Candidates will be selected from the international pool of top-class scientists who have recently acquired doctoral degrees. Successful applicants will be awarded five years of salary along with funds to run small, independent research groups. As these young scientists eventually move on to the next phase of their promising international careers, the institute's role and reputation as a prominent global scientific center will be widely acknowledged.

2) Common-use laboratories and open offices: Physical distance between research groups will be reduced to encourage interaction and collaboration on a daily basis, which will eventually contribute to major scientific breakthroughs. To enhance communication among researchers, the iCeMS will provide common-use laboratories with bench space allocated to all research groups, including those led by Kyoto iCeMS fellows. The space assigned to each principal investigator will be merit based, an arrangement facilitated by flexible allocation of the common-use laboratories.

3) Scientific integrity and science communication program: Although science and technology have greatly contributed to the advancement of human health and welfare, we are also aware of society's concerns for what scientists wish to achieve in the future and what they intend to do with it. Some of these concerns may be groundless, provoked by the words and deeds of scientists who lack scientific integrity. Others may stem from insufficient communication by scientists, who need to rise to the challenge to provide informed lay individuals with adequate and balanced information about science and technology. We will initiate a program to educate scientists on scientific integrity and ways to communicate better with society at large.