The Japanese research funding agency, JST (Japan Science and Technology Agency), and Sweden’s innovation agency, Vinnova, started a five-year joint research and innovation program in 2016, focused on addressing the societal challenge of an ageing population. Through an open call for research proposals, the four highest ranked projects were selected and funded for the first two-year “phase I” until March 2019, and through a stage-gate evaluation, currently the two most promising projects are in the phase II, aimed at bringing forward solutions for implementation in society.
The program was conceived to solve the complex challenges facing our societies and to co-create innovations involving stakeholders in international collaboration, and collaboration between industry and academia. Such solutions, brought forward with different cultural background yet with prominent research and innovation systems, have high potential to attract global markets and create new business opportunities.
At the end of last year, the symposium ”Societal challenges: JST-VINNOVA academia-industry co-creation program for active and healthy ageing” was held at the Embassy of Sweden in Tokyo, in form of a hybrid event with physical guests attending at the embassy, and the Director General at the Ministry for Enterprise and Innovation, project leaders and panellists joining online. Japanese attendees included the Deputy Director General Dr. Kajiwara of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, (MEXT) and Dr. Matsumoto, Science and Technology Advisor to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (MOFA), as well as the project leaders on the Japanese side.
The first presentation entitled “Solutions for independence and social participation of active, pre-frail and frail seniors by innovative food and monitoring technology systems combining with physical exercise and program” discussed work by Dr. Matsuo, Professor of Dentistry and Oral-Maxillofacial Surgery, Fujita Health University and Dr. Stading ,the Swedish project leader and Professor, Agrifood and Bioscience, Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE). The purpose of the project is to improve eating and nutrition, , and the goal is to develop and implement a comprehensive program to support independent senior living by delivering nutritious, good tasing, nice looking and easily eaten food for elderly. The clinical trial data of their “Go independent program”, showed significant improvement from physical and dental function. Dr. Stading showcased improvements in swallowing disorders by using 3D printed food.
The second project, “Continuous health status monitoring of elderly people using flexible skin patch sensors” was presented by Dr. Someya, Dean, Faculty of Engineering, University of Tokyo and the Swedish side project leader Dr. Berggren, Professor at Linköping University. They presented the technology and trial data of the wearable type, smart motion capture e-skin MEVA, developed by the University of Tokyo startup company “Xenoma” and includes collaboration with NEC. The high accuracy and the comfortability of the cutting-edge monitoring system was demonstrated, and the study is planned to extend for patients of spinal code injury, stroke and Parkinson’s disease for remote rehabilitation system. Dr. Berggren introduced a leg swelling monitoring system and technology of smart intranet body, connected to a protocol device. The unit can communicate with cloud and AI protocols to support health care providers.
In the later panel discussion, Director General of VINNOVA, Ms. Isaksson and Professor Schwaag Serger, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Lund University and member of the Prime Minister’s Innovation Council, actively discussed also future Swedish-Japanese research and innovation collaborations, together with Deputy Director General Dr. Kajiwara from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, (MEXT) and Dr. Matsumoto, Science and Technology Advisor to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and president of Tokyo University of Science. The panellists expressed satisfaction with the projects’ developments and the high value of this type of programme with academia and industry working together in the international collaboration. The strong relationship that has been built up during the last 15 years was brought up as a solid foundation, that with high potential, mutual trust can continue to strengthen the two countries. The high quality of co-publications was brought up, and it was stressed that relationships such as the Swedish-Japanese take a long time to build up and should be harnessed.
With Japan’s and Sweden’s high level of research, strong innovation eco systems, and similarities in priorities, it was suggested that processes for specifying future research and innovation collaborations should be initiated. Co-creating programmes involving academia-industry collaboration, and possibly also citizens in the process, were suggested. Artificial intelligence was mentioned as of high interest for future programme, and continued focus towards finding innovative solutions addressing societal challenges and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. For addressing societal challenges and SDGs, the importance of also involving arts, social sciences and humanities, apart from technological fields.
After the symposium, Ambassador Högberg invited to a reception at his residence with taking a preventive measures against COVID-19. The guests participating physically at the symposium were welcomed, together with the Swedish project leaders and Vinnova participating as “avatars”. The reception sparked vibrant discussion among the physical participants and the on-line connected Swedish “avatars”, with a consensus of deepening our Swedish-Japanese collaboration. Looking forward to us taking the next steps in this!