Japan-Initiated Development of New Paradigm: Organelle Network Medicine

Since the end of the 20th century, biomedical science has made remarkable progress in understanding the functions and interactions of biological molecules. This progress has taken place due to the rapid and dynamic development of technologies that allow comprehensive analyses of the genome, proteome, glycome, and transcriptome. Vigorous research has also been undertaken to elucidate genetic functions at the level of the individual organism, typically by using knockout mice. However, many life scientists find it impossible to reach satisfying answers to basic biological questions -- such as "What is life?" and "How does the cell maintain life?" -- by merely continuing their research. The cell is the basic unit of life. In order to understand the cellular system and develop therapies for treatment of clinical disorders resulting from cellular dysfunctions, we must focus special attention on the organelles, the functional macromolecular organizations constituting the cell. We believe that understanding communications between organelles -- the "organelle network" -- is crucial for exploring the mechanisms of disease. The Global COE Program Committee approved our proposal, and Osaka University was granted a commission to create a focal center for research and education.

Each organelle is a microcosm, performing specific functions within the cell. By integrating their functions, the various organelles maintain cellular homeostasis. We contend that the biomedical sciences could be interpreted using an analogy of the relationship between the cell and organelles. The various specialized research areas within bioscience correspond to the organelles. In other scientific disciplines as well, fields of research have become specialized and sometimes fragmented into specific domains; innovative activities carried out in these individualized areas have contributed to the development of science as a whole. For further scientific development in the 21st century, it is time to systematically integrate the study of organellar functions into a unified and integrated field of cell biology.

Our Global COE is dedicated to pioneering a new medical/life science field, Organelle Network Medicine, by combining three major fields: (1) cell biology: the study of various organelles; (2) glycobiology: the study of the mechanisms of carbohydrate metabolism, which plays an essential role in the organelle network; and (3) microbiology: the study of the interactions between host cells and pathogens that seek to take advantage of the organelle network to facilitate their own proliferation. Moreover, our COE aims to develop into a unique research and education center that will introduce new perspectives in the development of therapies for infectious diseases, neuromuscular disorders, cancers, lifestyle- and ageing-related diseases. These medical conditions involve a variety of environmental and other factors, which cannot be fully elucidated by conventional molecular-level approaches. Osaka University is fortunate to have researchers and scientists who are capable of integrating and clinically applying the results of these related fields. It is my ardent wish to establish a new paradigm by mobilizing our dynamic academic culture and training the next generation of researchers and practitioners.

Yoshihiro Yoneda, Program Leader