Many researchers around the world are fascinated by the subject of human ageing. On 14–15 June, a group of Japanese and Swedish researchers met for a joint workshop at Chalmers University in order to address some of the scientific and social challenges associated with ageing.
Ageing is one of three focus areas within the MIRAI project; the others being materials science and Sustainability. For each of these focus areas, the collaboration between Japan and Sweden is aimed at matching young researchers in one country with counterparts in the other.
"We see this more as a synergistic cooperation rather than only implementing projects alongside each other," said Prof. Toru Asahi at Waseda University in Tokyo, who is supported by colleagues Prof. Takayuki Akimoto at Waseda University and Prof. Morten Fjeld at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg.
The MIRAI project, standing for Mobility In Research and Innovation, is a collaborative initiative between 7 Swedish and 8 Japanese universities. The project started with a meeting at Lund University in October 2017, which was a critical step towards developing robust communication and understanding between the partners. Since then, relations have been deepened and concrete actions have been taken to enable international collaboration between the active ageing research communities in the two partner countries. At this time, the various activities within MIRAI are scheduled to continue until September, 2019.
A high-priority research area
Japan has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world and so the field of human ageing is a high priority in Japan. This priority, in turn, affects several other areas of scholarship, of which ageing sub-topics are presented below, and can help shape future education and research programs. During the two days at Chalmers this June, the workshop offered a forum for participating universities in the MIRAI project to make new contacts and identify new, interdisciplinary forms of cooperation.
"Sweden is one of the world's most innovative countries, but Japan has come a little further in this area of research. Swedes are generally more individualistic and independent than we Japanese. We see it as a great opportunity and advantage to interact with someone different from us," says Prof. Toru Asahi.
Both countries have a long tradition of innovation and invest heavily in large research facilities in order to be at the forefront of science and research.
Collaboration with Japan offers good opportunities
"Sweden is probably a few years behind Japan in certain areas of ageing research, so working with Japanese researchers can offer a good opportunity for learning" says Prof. Morten Fjeld, “the fact that the cultures of Japan and Sweden are quite different is no problem for research, rather the opposite. We have invested a lot of time to get all parts in place. The initial goal is to find the right partners, bring together young researchers and develop knowledge of how we best match them.”
The upcoming MIRAI seminar will take place in Tokyo on 11–12 October 2018. Research groups in the focus areas of ageing, sustainability and technical materials science will meet again to deepen their partnership.
"The face-to-face meeting today is an important part of the preparation for the autumn conference," said Prof Toru Asahi at the Chalmers workshop in June.
Co-financed by STINT
The MIRAI project also has plans to present on the progress of ageing research to the Japanese government. The ambition of MIRAI is to initiate a variety of research collaborations and enable student and doctoral student mobility internationally. The project is co-financed by STINT (Foundation for Internationalization of Higher Education and Research). Chalmers has contributed SEK 1.3 million to the project, of which approximately half has been designated as monetary support for participating researchers. STINT co-finances the project as a way to contribute to the establishment of strategically interesting collaborations in higher education and research.
"The project may just have started but we have already fulfilled the initial purpose of our cooperation. A number of important discussions are ongoing. We hope and believe this will be a pioneering project for future international collaborations,” concludes Prof. Takayuki Akimoto at Waseda University.
More information about the MIRAI project can be found at www.mirai.nu or via the project manager, Jacqueline Plette.
Early career researchers within Ageing
"It all began with a small task that grew and developed. We did not know each other before being combined through the MIRAI project as we share common interests and conduct similar types of research. The individual research fields did not match right away, but we found a common denominator in our approaches. And personal chemistry of course!”
So say Mojgan Padyab at Umeå University, Stefanie König at University of Gothenburg, and Rong Fu at Waseda University, Tokyo, who met in the fall of 2017 in Lund at the MIRAI project kickoff. The MIRAI project offers a new collaboration platform for young researchers active in Sweden and Japan.
The group's research is about the transition from working life to retirement and the effects it has on health, family systems and healthcare needs associated with the ageing population. Developments in Japan and Sweden are similar to each other. In both countries, many married couples get divorced when they retire; in Sweden the number has doubled since 2001. Perhaps they think about how to spend their time remaining in life? In Japan, you also have the option of getting your pension fund as a lump sum instead of over a ten-year period, which may also have an effect.
Thanks to the MIRAI project, Mojgan, Stefanie and Rong have had a forum for exchanging and bringing together their ideas in ageing research. They have made up their plan to meet again in Japan in October, when the next workshop of the MIRAI project takes place.
Cooperation has begun to take shape and the group continues to focus on its research idea. The three have thought to apply for funding at the national level in order to maintain their network while keeping down travel costs.
"It is extremely important to meet to drive the research forward. The MIRAI seminar in June gave us the motivation to keep in touch and discuss our ideas”, says Stefanie and is supported by Mojgan and Rong.
MIRAI Ageing focus areas consist of three sub-topics:
Ageing sub-topic A): Demography and Determinants of Health
- Population-based studies on the situation in Japan and in Sweden
- Cross-national comparative research with potential to increase the knowledge and understanding of determinants of health and longevity in ageing societies
- Lifestyle factors
Ageing sub-topic B): New Technologies for the Ageing Society
- Sensor/wearables/pervasive technologies helping older adults monitoring their health at home (health and medicine)
- Robot and communication technologies helping older adults carrying out their daily routines at home (accessibility and self-management)
- Robot and communication technologies helping older adults keeping contact with family and community (well-being)
Ageing sub-topic C): Health Promotion for the Ageing Society
- Social innovations and future policies for ageing societies
- Socio-demographic and socio-economic aspects of different forms of health care, social services and housing
- Health care and social service workers in the field
- Social innovations and future policies for ageing societies
- Lifelong learning for active ageing
- Biological and medical sciences of ageing
- Research and training on the molecular, cellular, genetic, and physiological mechanisms underlying normal ageing and age-related pathologies
- Research and training on health promotion and preventative strategies for ageing populations
- Physical and cognitive exercise, dietary interventions, and adaptations in the surrounding environment
FACTS ABOUT MIRAI
MIRAI is a three-year project connecting Swedish and Japanese universities through research, education and innovation addressing scientific issues within ageing, materials science and sustainability, relevant to both countries.
The MIRAI project aims to contribute to long-term collaborations and research excellence between Sweden and Japan through activities in research, education and innovation, and preparing the next generation of researchers.
MIRAI meeting i Japan 2018