On a cloudy Wednesday morning in the Tokyo suburb of Tsukuba, Yoshiyuki Sankai points excitedly to a slide of severed spinal cords. They belong to rats, and he’s used cell technology to help reconnect the nerves.
A multi-millionaire whose robot company, Cyberdyne Inc., went public last year, Sankai is researching ways to repair damaged body tissue. The 57-year-old scientist’s vision: to treat patients with spinal injuries by using stem-cell related technology to repair nerve connections and robotic suits that aid movement.
His plans are getting a boost from new policies promoted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who led a liberalization of approval rules to make Japan one of the world’s quickest places to get a regenerative therapy on the market. Now, Japanese corporations spanning the pharmaceutical and industrial sectors have regenerative medicine on their agenda, and industry groups estimate the domestic market for these therapies could top $25 billion by 2050.