Veterinary Medicine

Masahiro Okumura

Understanding Animal Bodies and Protecting Their Lives

Masahiro Okumura , Professor

Graduate School of Veterinary Medicine (School of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Veterinary Medicine)

High school : Osaka Prefectural Senyo Senior High School

Academic background : Doctorate from Hokkaido University

Research areas
Research keywords
joint disorders, cancer, stem cells

What is your goal?

Have you ever encountered an elephant, lion, or hippopotamus? I mean within their own territory and not at the zoo. Elephants care about their families and lions only hunt when they are hungry. Hippopotamuses are really fast runners. When thinking about animals, for many people, images of wild animals come to mind. However, animals and humans are connected in a variety of ways. Think of the animals around you. Household pets live with humans as members of our families, bringing smiles and teaching us the value of life. Cows, pigs, and chickens sacrifice their lives as sources of protein for 7 billion people. We need to get along with wild animals as neighbors on earth. Animals at the zoo and aquarium show us what living creatures are.

In our laboratory, in order to solve the major proposition of how to bring diseased animals back to health, we scientifically analyze therapeutic information from around the world and use the obtained data to support making the animals that visit the surgery division of our auxiliary Veterinary Teaching Hospital as happy as possible.

There are many diseases in animals. Here are some examples in household pets. As animals age, diseases almost exactly the same as humans, including cancers, cardiac diseases, joint disorders, and cataracts, come to be frequently observed. Moreover, the preservation of pure-blooded types and breeds of limited population results in the proliferation of genetic diseases. Currently, we are proceeding with research focusing on animal joint disorders and cancers.

What kind of equipment do you use and what kind of experiments do you conduct?

Diseases are a biological phenomenon. In controlling a disease, it is important to predict how cells will react when certain stimuli are provided to a diseased tissue and what happens to the body as a result. To that end, analysis methods at cellular, protein, and genetic levels are essential. In the event that the damaged tissue is unable to self-repair, hopelessly damaged tissues may be repaired by providing differentiated stem cells, which are capable of acting as the base for various tissues, to the target tissue. To carry out these experiments, we use a clean room, for keeping the cells and tissues clean, protein analyzers such as electrophoresis apparatuses or spectrophotometers, and PCR devices for gene analysis.

Here is an example. A cancer tissue removed from an animal visiting our Veterinary Teaching Hospital is segregated to the cellular level, after which stable properties thereof are capable of being maintained in a test-tube. Subsequently, the characteristics of the cells and sensitivity to stimuli thereof are analyzed. In addition, abnormalities at the genetic level are analyzed to determine applicable treatment strategies. Not many animal cancers are able to proceed to this stage.

We are also working on novel anticancer treatments. Photodynamic therapy is one of these. First, a photosensitive substance is incorporated into the cancer, after which it is laser irradiated to excite the substance, eventually leading to cancer cell destruction using this energy. By destroying the cancer as shown in the left image above, the cancer disappears as shown in the right image above. This is expected to become an efficient anticancer local therapy and the practical use thereof is currently being pursued.


What is your next goal?

From reptiles and small animals to large mammals, I aim to support the creation of a society in which humans and animals can get along through disease treatment of animals. I wish to develop outstanding human resources that can contribute to the development of biology through veterinary medicine, among young generations who need to deal with environmental issues on a global basis.