A blossoming collaboration with Japan (2011)
Formal relationships between the Maurice Wilkins Centre and high-profile Japanese research institutions were established in 2011, and exchange visits have already begun.
In 2010 a delegation of Maurice Wilkins Centre immunologists travelled to Japan, with support from the Ministry of Research Science and Technology (MoRST) and New Zealand Embassy, to discuss potential research collaborations.
“The Japanese were deeply impressed with our research and keen to work with us. Both sides realised how much potential there was, and what happened completely exceeded our expectations,” says Dr Seishi Gomibuchi who fostered the relationships while working at MoRST and now The University of Auckland.
All three institutes visited – RIKEN Research Centre for Allergy and Immunology, Chiba University Global Centre of Excellence Programme, and Osaka University Immunology Frontier Research Programme (iFReC) – initiated formal relationships with the Centre the following year.
Seishi says that as a national multi-disciplinary network, the Centre is wellplaced to promote New Zealand science. “By engaging with the Maurice Wilkins Centre, Japanese institutions know they’re gaining access to scientists all over New Zealand, and because the Centre has the best New Zealand researchers it is an excellent representation of what the country has to offer.”
Japan has particular strengths in immunology and the delegation focused on institutes with world-class research, the capacity for multiple collaborations, and resources complementary to New Zealand. The institutions also have Japanese government support and an international focus.
Through formal agreements the Maurice Wilkins Centre can coordinate greater access to these institutions than individual scientists could achieve, and make personnel exchange much easier. Establishing deep institutional links also raises the Centre’s international profile and ensures enduring and productive relationships.
2011 saw the start of a collaborative programme that will include joint scientific meetings in both countries and individual exchanges. Already Maurice Wilkins Centre investigator Associate Professor Sarah Hook and PhD student Teerawan (Mo) Rattanapak from Otago University have visited Professor Masaru Ishii’s laboratory at iFReC to use advanced imaging facilities.
Sarah is studying how to make vaccines that can be applied directly onto the skin, avoiding the need for sterile injections and potentially raising immunisation rates. “We’d made several vaccines and wanted to know how well they penetrated the skin,” she explains.
iFReC’s microscopes allowed them to watch as their vaccines entered the skin and immune cells responded. The next generation of vaccines will be developed based on the results, and Mo anticipates returning to Japan to evaluate them.
“It was a really positive experience,” Sarah says. “We were looked after incredibly well, given a lot of access to equipment and resources, and had staff available to help us.” Sarah’s visit was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The Maurice Wilkins Centre provided funding for Mo to accompany her.
Image: New Zealand and Japanese immunologists at iFReC, photograph courtesy of iFReC