Becoming a talent who can handle the languages of both medical sciences and physical sciences/engineering/informatics.
Yanagisawa>Now let’s talk about me. In high school, I was a typical STEM student studying only physics and chemistry. I then enrolled in the school of medicine at the University of Tsukuba. When I was the first year student, I took the class taught by Professor Kaichiro Yanagisawa (unrelated) of genetics, and I realized that modern biology is very exciting. In the meantime, I had the opportunity to meet with physical science and engineering professors, joined a group of young researchers of mathematical engineering, and was exposed to fields such as medical informatics and quantitative analysis. In 1985, when I was a sixth-year medical student, I also wrote an original paper on the subject of cell cycle.
Sankai>That’s quite early.
Yanagisawa> I came up with a quantitative model by myself and performed mathematical simulation of the cell cycle. The experiment was conducted at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in the United States for three months each in the winter and summer of 1984. The cell cycle was experimentally measured by flow cytometry, which was state-of-the-art at that time, and simulated with the Cray-1.
Sankai>Cray-1, it was a supercomputer of the era wasn’t it? It must have been pretty special to be able to have access to an environment with Cray-1 in your days.
Yanagisawa>I didn’t even study for entrance exam in high school, but there was an award in my high school that commended me for excellent research in science. I decided to take it with a friend who was strong in software and we made a personal computer from scratch. Created a simple interpreter programming language using assembler language.
After I entered graduate school, I became so involved in experimental biology research that I was far away from actually using quantitative methods. But I’ve always had a sense of crisis. This is because, even though we were doing joint research with the mathematical sciences, we sometimes did not understand each other. I thought this was very bad. That’s why when I applied for this program to the MEXT Graduate School of Excellence, I argued that “we should have a double mentor system.” Students were always assigned two supervisors to force them to learn medical biology on the one hand and physical sciences/ engineering/informatics on the other4. For example, students from engineering will have direct access to clinical medicine from the first year, just like Prof. Sankai. They are still young and can absorb a lot if exposed. I think that such an environment will cultivate outstanding talents.
Sankai>It is nice that we agree that the target is “people.” There are a lot of things in the natural sciences that exist without the presence of humans, but “people” cannot be the target without the existence of humans. In that sense, Humanics is a place where this image of people provides a certain directionality while medicine and engineering can march forward as one.
Yanagisawa>It’s just right for the times. When I entered graduate school, it was difficult for biology to generate data anyway, but in the age of omics, it became relatively easy to get large amounts of biological data. Biology students in Humanics are now trying to use mathematics and informatics as tools. Eventually, I think we will go one step further from here, which will lead to biological theory and concepts from the mathematical side.
Sankai>What is important and at the core of this interaction is “evolving together”. Before I got my doctorate in graduate school, I was actually considering reentering the university to learn medicine from the basics. Instead, a professor advised me, “why don’t you try to coordinate with medicine.” Now that I think about it, I’m very grateful for his advice as this accelerated my growth beyond my imagination. I really believe that you, Professor Yanagisawa, also see Humanics as a curriculum that develops people, and medicine and engineering are really compatible.
Yanagisawa>For example, medicine literally uses engineering as a tool, but in fact, you will not be able to produce sharp results in bioinformatics, for example, unless you have a truly deep understanding. And there are extremely few good bioinformaticians in Japan. If you don’t understand mathematical principles, you can’t be an expert, and the language is quite different in the first place. It is essential to be able to handle both worlds of biomedical science and physical sciences/engineering/informatics.
Sankai>However I think it’s very important that you are able to clearly depict the concept behind the language in your head, and not just have a superficial understanding of the language. A high-level understanding of the language should allow you to jump to the next stage of thought and discussion instantly. Isn’t this Humanics a program born with that in mind? Time is limited, so while we can never be sure if we can reach the goals we place ourselves, Humanics can act as a trigger for some people who may go all the way. It is important for Humanics to become a field that allows for constant growth in a person so that they can navigate life in this society.
Yanagisawa>Ph.D. Program in Humanics has conducted an entrance examination twice a year so far, and there were 12 applicants for the winter exam in 2019. In the 2020 class, 14 students have passed. Enrolled students are outstanding, and there are many international students. This time, we also did an overseas entrance exam. Finally, would you like to give a message to students who are planning to take Humanics?
Sankai>I have only one message. Whatever your goal may be, become a pioneer who enjoys every moment of their journey. You may encounter many obstacles, but our time in life is limited. I want you to never forget the wonder and excitement of exploring new areas in your field.5
Yanagisawa>What I often say to young people is to study what they think is really interesting. If you don’t find it genuinely interesting yourself, there’s no way you can explain the excitement to others. That’s why in choosing Humanics, I want you to pursue questions and perspectives that you feel are truly really interesting. I want you to do something that you can boast about, “this is interesting” not just because someone said, “it would be interesting if you did this.”
You don’t have to force others to understand it. It’s more important to keep believing in yourself that this is really interesting.