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Living well and longer in Japan

27 October 2017 | Dr Charlie Davie

If you’ve visited Japan, you’ll know that you can’t help but fall in love with this island nation. The eclectic mix of traditional and modern sit seamlessly side by side, creating a sense of serenity which is underpinned by a deep culture of respect, particularly for the elderly population.

Japan has historically enjoyed the longest life expectancy of any developed country, and currently, at an average of just over 85 years, it remains second only to Monaco (89 years). The UK ranks rather lower in the table at 29th with an average of just below 81 years.

During my recent trip to Japan, I visited the sulphuric springs around Mount Fuji. They boil eggs in the springs which turns the shell black. Folklore has it that eating one of these increases your life expectancy by seven years. I just had the two, which will hopefully take me up to 95.

However, this comparative advantage is being eroded and one major cause is the increased number of people in Japan dying from Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Half of those patients living with dementia will have four or more co-morbidities, placing increasing pressure on the Japanese health system. As in the UK, this is clearly an area of concern and prompted a session on healthy ageing at the BioJapan 2017 conference in Yokahama this month, at which I was invited to speak.

It was a great opportunity to share learning on our work programmes on research, education and innovation in this area. Other contributors included representatives from the pharmaceutical company Eisai who have a strong relationship around drug discovery in dementia with UCL and IMS, who we work closely with through the Quintiles-IMS prime site at UCLPartners.

I also spoke at another session in Tokyo hosted by MedCity and opened by UK Life Sciences Minister, Lord Prior. This covered many areas, but there was particular interest in the role of big data; the challenges around trust, appropriate use of people’s data, and also the opportunities to identify new insights into disease, diagnosis and population health. I was able to highlight a number of our partnerships with industry, including SMEs, particularly in the context of our work hosting the NHS Innovation Accelerator and DigitalHealth.London.

The trip facilitated several highly useful connections and will hopefully prompt some further collaboration in this area. As the opportunities presented by big data continue to revolutionise healthcare, UCLPartners will continue to support collaboration across industry, the NHS and academia to ensure that these advances work better for the population, particularly as we contribute to the global challenges of dementia and health ageing.