Full Text
Home > Policy > White Paper, Notice, Announcement > White Paper > Annual Report on the Promotion of Science and Technology 2000 > Part1 Chapter2 Section1 4

Part 1: Towards the 21st Century
Chapter 2: Science and Technology's Contribution to Human Society in the 20th century and Issues to be Addressed in the Future
Section 1: Development of Science and Technology in the 20th Century and Penetration to Society
4. Advances in Life Sciences

(1) Discovery of Disease-Causing Bacteria and the Development of Curative Medicines

"BCG," an immunization to prevent tuberculosis, was developed and this resulted in a reduction of the number of deaths caused by tuberculosis, a disease which was previously feared as incurable ( Fig. 9 ).

Fig. 9: Annual Trends in Tuberculosis Mortality Rates in Various Countries

Many other important facts were discovered in the 20th century, including the discovery of "syphilis Spirochaeta," the bacteria that causes syphilis, and the development of "Salvarsan" as a curative medicine for the disease, the extraction of "insulin" as a drug effective in treating diabetes, the extraction of "penicillin," a specific medicine against bacterial infections, and the discovery of "interferons," which are virus suppressors.

(2) Development in Medical Equipment

The popularization of X-ray imaging which utilizes the differences in X-ray absorption of the various tissues of human and foreign bodies to create images, and the invention of electrocardiographs which measure and record minute changes in current generated cyclically by the heart have played important roles in diagnosis and treatment.

In addition, computer tomography scans (CT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound diagnosis and other image diagnosis technology and cancer treatment technology using gamma rays have been developed one after another, and have already been implemented.

Research is also currently being carried out into Boron Neutron Complementation Treatment (BNCT), cancer diagnosis and treatment using proton rays, and cancer treatment using radiation such as Heavy Ion Medical Accelerator in Chiba (HIMAC).

(3) Development of Medical Means and Treatment Methods

The discovery of the ABO blood group, in addition to the knowledge from immunology and genetic science, enabled safe blood transfusions.

In 1954 the first successful kidney transplant occurred, and the first successful heart transplant in 1967. Thus, in the 20th century organ transplant has advanced with the understanding of the immune system. In recent years, in the Western countries, more than 3,000 heart transplants are carried out from brain-dead patients each year, in this way organ transplants from brain-dead donors succeed more and more, and these transplants are taking root as part of everyday medicine.

In 1968 a heart transplant operation was carried out in Japan, but after the death of the patient involved, it brought about problems such as the definition of brain-death and the ethics of doctors, and until "the Law Concerning the Transplant of Organs" came into effect in 1997, organ transplants were not carried out from brain-dead patients.

(4) Development of Biotechnology

With the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953, DNA is regarded as a centerpiece of life phenomena. These breakthroughs in biology have progressed at a rapid pace.

A genetic recombination experiment succeeded in 1973. Currently genetic recombination technology is being applied to the medical field through the development of new pharmaceuticals and treatment methods, to the agricultural field through the development of crops that are resistant to disease, and to other varieties of fields.

Meanwhile, there are increasing calls for verification of the safety of genetically modified crops and genetically modified foods, so the creation and examination of an internationally appropriate framework of regulations.

(5) Life Sciences Opening Up the 21st Century

Thanks to "the Human Genome Project" that is currently being advanced by international cooperation, all basic arrays of DNA have been unscrambled, and it is expected that the function of genes will be come clear. By these advances it is expected that pharmaceuticals will be developed to treat cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and that dramatic forward steps will take place in diagnosis and treatment. Attention is also focussed on the fact that customized medical care matched to the individual health.

With the birth of cloned sheep "Dolly" in 1997 as a turning point, interest in cloning technology has increased in all over the world.

The advances in genetic recombination technology and cloning technology have lead to expectations for advances in technology in the agricultural field. They will also enable the production of human growth hormone, and the production of animals for organ transplants, and it is quite conceivable that the immeasurable use of the technology in these fields will affect society in the 21st century.

(6) Problems of Bioethics

In relation to organ transplants, in Japan there has been long-standing debate about whether brain-dead patients are dead or not. Currently, based on the experience of organ transplants in accordance with "the Law Concerning Transplant of Organs," debate is taking place about problems such as the disclosure of information about the implementation of fair and accurate brain-dead assessments, and the protection of private information about both organ donors and recipients.

The application of cloning techniques to humans is predicted to bring about a great deal of concern in the world from the perspective of ensuring the dignity of human beings. In addition, research that uses human embryos, the start of human life, brings world-wide debate, encompassing the development of a framework of strict regulations.

With the unscrambling of the functions of genes which is expected in the future, there are fears that a new type of discrimination will occur by using the genetic makeup of the individual. Appropriate review is required concerning the prevention of different types of discrimination in society caused by differences in genetical makeup, and the protection of private information concerning genes.

(C)COPYRIGHT Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology

Back to Top   MEXT HOME