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Aims in forming program

Conquering neurodegenerative disorders and cancer is the key challenge for medicine in the 21st century, requiring an understanding of the pathogenesis of these disorders to establish new treatment modalities. Groundbreaking research has begun for both of these diseases worldwide, and the next decade will be a crucial period for the task at hand. The urgent need is to fight these disorders from a global perspective, and train world-class young researchers. We in our previous 21st Century COE Program "Integrated Molecular Medicine for Neuronal and Neoplastic Disorders" have demonstrated the deep involvement of functional molecules common to the pathogenesis of both neurodegenerative disorders and cancer, and targeting these molecules through interdisciplinary approach with researchers in other fields has produced many novel research findings. Integrated research into these two disorders has led to achievements on the highest international level and the cultivation of many outstanding young researchers.

Our Global COE program will further develop the educational and research concepts that we have established through this approach, and will further aim to form a new COE program, "Integrated Functional Molecular Medicine for Neuronal and Neoplastic Disorders". This will be achieved through a high level of expertise among young researchers and cutting-edge studies that advance research for the world at large. The three missions of the program are to pursue the functional molecules that are common to neuronal and neoplastic disorders, to create interdisciplinary research centered on functional molecules common to both these disorders, and to promote the treatments that target these common functional molecules. The Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine, together with the neighboring institutes, National Institute for Longevity Science and the Aichi Cancer Center, will bring together world-class researchers with the aim of creating a major educational and research program.

Historical contribution and high achievements of our program

Our lines of research have produced outstanding researchers in the fields of neuronal and neoplastic disorders, and contributed greatly to the development of both fields. Examples are the elucidation of the dopamine biosynthesis system by Toshiharu Nagatsu (Medal with Purple Ribbon), elucidation of the neuronal mechanisms of perspiration by Yasu Kuno (Order of Cultural Merit), opening the way to chemotherapy for leukemia by Seizo Katsunuma (Order of Cultural Merit), and clarification of the principles that led to the development of CT and MRI by Shinji Takahashi (Order of Cultural Merit). From the COE since 1998 and the 21st Century COE thereafter, we have relentlessly pursued our goal: integrated research on neuronal and neoplastic disorders.

Current status of research on neurodegenerative disorders and cancer, and the importance and growth of our program

Research on neurodegenerative disorders has made rapid progress over the past 10-15 years, thanks to the continued discovery of the genes that cause these diseases. New treatments based on molecular pathogenesis have been shown to be effective at the animal level for several of these diseases, but no treatments have yet been established that will prevent neurodegeneration in humans. The search for target molecules and development of therapies to prevent these pathologies will be a major trend in global research in the coming decade.
At the same time, many laboratories worldwide are studying the molecular mechanisms of malignant tumors and developing molecular targeted therapies. The next decade will be a leap forward in the further search for molecular targets and development of effective therapies with minimal side effects.
Our program has adopted the original goal of establishing an interdisciplinary field to overcome both neuronal and neoplastic disorders. Worldwide, there are several research centers simultaneously working on neurodegeneration and carcinogenesis based on common functional molecules. All of these efforts, however, are made at the level of individual laboratory, and do not cover all aspects from interdisciplinary research to education, as in our program. Our activities in line with this goal for the past 10 years have led to many outstanding achievements, including discovery of new target functional molecules, advancement of clinical trials, and development of human resources.

Our program in neuronal disorders and cancer, opposite poles in medicine, is a model for an interdisciplinary approach fashion at the most advanced level. We have established the following three central missions.

1. To pursue the functional molecules that are common to neuronal and neoplastic disorders

This is the defining mission of the program, which we have pursued continuously through our previous COE program (1998-2002), and the 21st Century COE program (2003-2007). New and common functional molecules including girdin, midkine, ret, androgen receptor, HSP90, gangliosides, CRMP-2, and tissue plasminogen activator, have come to light each year. With the discovery of an important functional molecule in schizophrenia, for example, our research can be said to cover neuronal disorders in the broadest sense, including psychiatric disorders, and we aim to discover and analyze new functional molecules that will lead to clinical applications within 5 to 10 years.

2. To create interdisciplinary research centered on functional molecules

We will build a joint research network with institutions in Japan and abroad, centered around the functional molecules that we have identified. This multidisciplinary research network will expand dramatically under the guidance of new program members, including visiting professors from nearby research institutions. Using this human network, we will promote interdisciplinary research based on cooperation among overseas graduates of our program and top-flight universities and research institutions. Meanwhile, we aim to pursue joint research, and to find new institutions for cooperation based on functional molecules.

3. To develop molecular targeted therapies based on these functional molecules

In our program the research focus on molecular targeted therapies for motor neuron disease, leukemia, and solid cancers reflects our attempt to pioneer several of these therapies during the Global COE period. We have also begun studies on therapies using molecules judged to have potential as new therapeutic targets in our interdisciplinary research. Research on therapeutic modalities, the ultimate goal of our program, is our way of "giving back to society", and we will strive to keep the public informed and pursue other public relations activities as well.