Looking back on the history of medicinal progress, new treatment methods have derived from not only the development of medical study and molecular biology, but also the evolution of materials and machines. Professor Ohya assembled a team with the aim of creating unprecedented new materials for use in treatment and proposing “material-leading medicine” on the basis of their research. The constituents are called “Smart Materials” because their physical property transforms in response to environmental stimuli such as temperature and pH (potential of hydrogen), and they can prompt functions by distinguishing between molecules. Among them, materials specifically used in the medical field are referred to as “Smart Biomaterials”.
The representative form of Smart Biomaterials is the biodegradable injectable polymer. At room temperature (25C degrees) it is in solution state, but transforms into a gel state at body temperature (37C degrees). This property is suitable for a drug delivery system, which means distributing the necessary amount of medicine to an affected area within the required time. Once the polymer hydrogel is applied into the peritoneum beneath the skin, it is consolidated in the body and then is gradually degraded releasing medical agents. This method makes operative incisions unnecessary as well as decreasing the administration time. As a result, the burden on patients and side-effects of the drugs significantly reduced. Since the medical agents are released with keeping their concentration constant in the body over the time, it serves to enhance the efficacy of the treatment. There used to be a disadvantage of low solubility in water which made it difficult for doctors to use. However, this problem has since been improved by Professor Ohya. Currently, Professor Ohya is engaged in collaborative research with a pharmaceutical company for practical utilization of his research. With the potential of application to various types of medication, this development is expected to broaden the possibilities of medical treatment in next generation.
Use of the biodegradable injectable polymer is focused on application in topical regenerative medicine. After mixing cell growth factors with the patient’s own cells or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), then injecting into defect tissue in the body, it consolidates as a high intensity gel working as a scaffold for cell proliferation. Regeneration and the degradation of the gel occur concurrently, and the idea is for the cells to gradually replace the gel. Moreover, as a possible application, the biodegradable polymer could be sprayed over organs to serve as adhesion prevention fitting any organ shape when conducting abdominal surgery.
The research project for Smart Biomaterials was selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s Strategic Project to Support the Formation of Research Bases at Private Universities in 2010. Professor Ohya has promoted research on various themes cooperating with nine internal and two external researchers. By combining different fields of enquiry, researchers stimulate each other and share common knowledge resulting in new ideas. To his students, he does not just tell the answers. He guides them to discover things for themselves, and then provides advice to their supplement their ideas. Professor Ohya believes in being responsible and showing results under pressure – this attitude empowers students to find the answers.