Creating Evidence-based Health Sciences
Hitoshi Chiba , Professor
Faculty of Health Sciences/Graduate School of Health Sciences (Department of Health Sciences, School of Medicine)
High school : Tokushima Prefecture Jonan High School.
Academic background : Hokkaido University School of Medicine
- Research areas
- clinical chemistry
- Research keywords
- lipids, clinical examination, health sciences, mass spectrometry, atomic force microscope, biosensors
How did you begin your current research?
Photo 1 My first synthetic chemistry experiment. This experience was useful in my subsequent research.
After graduating from university, I studied internal medicine, specializing in endocrinology and metabolic disease, and was given the opportunity to treat patients with primary aldosteronism. This disease is caused by a tumor in the adrenal cortex located above the kidney, and increases blood pressure largely. Its diagnosis is difficult unless you are an expert in the disease and it is not unusual for patients not to be diagnosed correctly for several years. I decided that I would like to develop a clinical examination that would allow the disease to be simply diagnosed from even a single drop of urine. I could see only a small number of patients, but if a simple detection method was developed, it would assist patients all over the world. I started work on synthetic chemistry/analytical chemistry/immunology experiments in the pharmacology department of another university, and eventually completed my research. From this experience, I decided that I would like to make the development of clinical examinations my life’s work.
How did you become interested in health sciences?
Health science is a discipline that aims to prevent disease and maintain health and youthfulness. At first, I was engaged in research to diagnose diseases within the Clinical Laboratory of Hokkaido University Hospital. However, as lifestyle-related diseases (obesity, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, hypertension, etc.) increased as a global trend, I began to think that prevention was a more important issue than diagnosis of each disease. As the number of elderly people increases, there are also increasing numbers of people aiming to maintain their youthfulness and health. That is why there are so many advertisements for health foods and supplements on TV and in the newspapers nowadays. Very few of these products, however, are backed up by any evidence regarding their effectiveness. We see a lot of so-called “anti-oxidant foods,” for example, but since there is no simple method of measuring one’s own level of “oxidation stress,” consumers simply continue to buy expensive products without any real idea of whether or not they are having an effect. I chose to work in health science based on the idea that in the future, we will increasingly need clinical examination methods that are optimized to health science.
So what sort of experiments do you do?
Fig. 1 Mass spectrometer analysis used to measure lipid peroxides
Fig. 2 3D measurement of lipoproteins using an atomic force microscope
I am developing new examination methods for lipids (fats and oils). Everyone has heard of cholesterol and neutral fat, but we know that there are other lipids that also play important roles. For example, substances known as lipid peroxides, which occur when lipids are oxidized, can lead to a range of diseases including arteriosclerosis (which can cause cardiac infarction and stroke), and contribute to aging. Measuring lipid peroxides is, however, technically difficult, and in fact they have not ever really been measured. We are using a device known as a mass spectrometer (Fig. 1) to develop an accurate measurement method. In addition, our blood contains lipids in the form of substances called lipoproteins, which are tiny particles of fat and protein. You have probably heard of HDL (the good ones) and LDL (the bad ones). We are seeking to develop a method to measure the best of the good and the worst of the bad lipoproteins in the bloodstream, and are also engaged in the 3D analysis of the size and shape of lipoproteins using an atomic force microscope (Fig. 2).
What are you aiming for next?
Photo 2 Biosensor used to measure lipid peroxides.
At present, we are developing a compact examination device that can be used simply and thrown away, optimized to self-management of health, with the aim of being able to supply this to the world. Specifically, we have developed a biosensor (Photo 2), which can be used to measure lipid peroxides. In the near future, we believe we will be able to create compact sensors that are smaller than body thermometers. We are continuing our experiments in order to attain this, and dreaming of the day when these sensors will be used by the general public. I hope that we can become a world renowned lipid analysis center, commissioned to perform analysis of lipids that are difficult to measure. We will need to continue to proactively introduce new technologies in order to achieve this. Our laboratory is currently home to researchers with medical, health science, fishery, pharmacological, science and engineering backgrounds, and I believe that it is this interdisciplinary atmosphere that will lead us to new and innovative methods of examination.