asian beauty

The build an Asia-wide cancer registry as a small step towards a common Asian future.

The 20th century in Asia has been a century of violent conflicts and enormous suffering, no small part of it caused by Japan, and this history has kept us apart. Also, because of its sheer diversity and large differences in traditions, cultures, or economic development, building connections and relationships in the region was deemed difficult. For this reason, Asian countries in Postwar Japan were often called "close by yet far away". I strongly believe that we cannot alter the legacies of the past, we can at best find ways to live with it. It is on this background that I had proposed last year, at the meeting in Pusan, the build an Asia-wide cancer registry as a small step towards a common Asian future. I believe that this situation represents an important opportunity for medical research and health policy in Asia and an important resource for us all. While populations throughout Asia share certain genetic similarities, there remain stark differences in lifestyle throughout the region. It is a fact that cancer rates are increasing in all Asian countries.

The enormous speed of industrialization as well as rapidly aging populations in some countries is causing considerable re-alignments in lifestyles, yet another factor that makes Asia in a highly attractive area for the study of the linkages of disease, genetics, and live-styles. One day, we may be able to link information on disease phenotype with genetic information and information on life styles. Significant differences in live styles and nutrition among various countries may help us to entangle the of complex interrelations between genetic and environmental factor in common cancers.

Building a network of cancer registries, first perhaps only local but eventually covering entire populations, is no easy task? in Asia it is an enormous challenge. It will demand an investment in infrastructure and, much more importantly, in standardization. Yet, I believe, it is an effort that is both feasible and of considerable potential. It is an effort that could grow in both depth and scale?from a very limited effort to collect standardized data at a limited number of locations within the next year or so, to a comprehensive effort that tracks cancer occurrence across the region and with databases that link disease phenotypes to life style and even genetic data.

I am aware that this is a vision of the future. In fact, until this March I was working for the Japanese Medical Association (JMA), which has provided support to the development of cancer registries in Japan for almost 40 years. One of the areas I had been most concerned with was data security and, what "genetic privacy".

In 2002 we published the comment within the pages of Nature, signed by the president of the Japanese Medical Association In this comment we argued that large-scale databases that link classical epidemiological data with genetics will be increasingly crucial to the development of medicine in the near future and that such efforts need to be supported. But, we also argued that strong and visible efforts to protect the individual and especially the individual patient. This comment had considerable impact in Japan and contributed both to increased funding to establish such databases as well as to efforts to build draft special legislation to protect private information that is used for research purposes. When considering efforts to build databases across national boundaries, even in their most simple from, will need to consider this issue of data protection. The very notion of "privacy" and "private information" is altered by the enormous progress of the Life Sciences, together with the IT revolution. A few weeks ago, in the journal "Nature", a small US company called (called "The 454") reported the successful sequencing of the entire genome of a microorganism in just a few hours. Sequencing the entire genome of an individual in a very short time may become feasible only a few years from now.

Let me make a final point? and here I will come back to what I said at the very beginning. Science today, and especially the Life Sciences, is not confined to national boundaries, but moves freely from one country to another. It is my firm believe that the Life Sciences can help to build bridges across countries in Asia and to bring Asian countries closer together. Further, it is my hope that the meeting will prove to be a small step in the direction.

November 5 2005
3th AHTN Norie Kawahara

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