AR3T interviewed Hirotaka Iijima, PhD (Keio University), about the development of his international collaboration in the field of Regenerative Rehabilitation and his plans for the future.
By: Laura Miller, PhD
In the Beginning. Dr. Iijima received a MSc degree in Physical Therapy from Kyoto University in 2014, and a PhD in Physical Therapy from Kyoto University in 2017. While pursuing his PhD, Dr. Iijima was mentored by Dr. Hiroshi Kuroki, a Professor of Physical Therapy at Kyoto University. It was during this time that Dr. Akira Ito, an Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy at Kyoto University, shared a publication by AR3T’s co-director, Fabrisia Ambrosio (University of Pittsburgh), on her Regenerative Rehabilitation research, and he was also fortunate enough to hear her present a seminar on the topic. A PT by training, Dr. Ambrosio’s research using rehabilitation to optimize functional outcomes resonated with Dr. Iijima. He was inspired by the research, and it motivated him to attend the 7th Annual International Symposium on Regenerative Rehabilitation, which was held in Seattle, WA, in 2018. At this meeting, he presented a poster focusing on findings from a meta-analysis of published research on the use of mesenchymal stem cells for treating patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA), a major interest of his. His conclusion, that research supports a key role of rehabilitation for MSC treatment outcomes in knee OA based on self-reported physical function, only furthered his interest in the field of Regenerative Rehabilitation. Through this experience, Dr. Iijima recognized the importance of high quality clinical trials but also, and even more importantly, the potential of utilizing the appropriate kinds of rehabilitation to regenerate tissue and to improve functional outcomes really excited him. He was convinced that he wanted to study Regenerative Rehabilitation.
Problem. Dr. Iijima concluded that, currently, rehabilitation protocols for knee OA do not result in optimal outcomes. There is no established method to evaluate OA treatments and there is no research-backed rehabilitation protocol to enhance regeneration following MSC transplantation. He is motivated by this understanding and would like to work in the field of Regenerative Rehabilitation, determined to develop evaluative technologies and rehabilitation protocols that will result in optimized treatments for musculoskeletal diseases (MSK).
Current Work. Dr. Iijima accepted a position as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of System Design Engineering at Keio University in Japan to work on the development of a noninvasive, markerless motion capture system that uses an inertial measurement unit (IMU) and laser range sensor (LRS) to measure and report on gait kinematics and spatiotemporal measurements within the body; more specifically, to measure acceleration, velocity, and position of trunk and lower limbs to objectively report on disease state and functional improvements. In practice, this has the more immediate potential to be used in association with current clinical trials looking at the effectiveness of physical therapy and surgical treatment for the treatment of knee OA, which is ongoing at Kyoto and Keio Universities as a collaborative project. Longer term, he hopes that this technology will be useful to evaluate Regenerative Rehabilitation protocols in the treatment of musculoskeletal diseases.
Immediate Future. Because of Dr. Iijima’s background and area of interest, he applied for, and was awarded, a grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for a two-year fellowship to study and perform research abroad in the lab of Dr. Fabrisia Ambrosio at the University of Pittsburgh, starting this May. Through this alliance, he will learn the mechanisms of physical therapy or, in scientific terms, mechanotransduction, on stem cells in musculoskeletal tissue. He is interested specifically in whether electrical stimulation of quadriceps will improve outcomes before or after stem cell transplantation as treatment for OA. Additionally, he looks forward to learning more broadly about Regenerative Rehabilitation research from a leader in the field.
Long-Range Plan. Dr. Iijima is in a unique position, being able to bridge the gap not only between PT and regenerative medicine but also between two continents. It is his long-range goal to apply for a subsequent grant from his home country of Japan to create an international collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and Kyoto University to continue this line of research on a larger scale, and to facilitate its translation into the clinic. He hopes that his current collaboration with Dr. Ambrosio will translate into future cross-continent collaborative efforts to support clinical trials that will optimize functional outcomes for OA patients.