City council’s Japan trip to help life science research


Minneapolis City Council members traveled more than 6,000 miles last month to Japan to promote the city’s medical and health industries.

The council discussed ways to strengthen the city’s growing life science industries, which could bring research collaborations and money to the University.

Council President Barbara Johnson, members Lisa Goodman and Scott Benson, Mayor R.T. Rybak, city economic development staff and business leaders made the trip to Ibaraki, near the eastern coast of the island nation.

City Council President Barbara Johnson visited Japan for the third time on the city’s behalf, she said.

“We want to nurture this bioscience industry that we have a huge lead on in our community,” she said.

In 2005, the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank, ranked Minneapolis as having the eighth strongest-growing life sciences sector in the United States.

The life sciences industry is made up of developers of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. These industries have huge economic growth potential because of future medical breakthroughs and an aging baby boomer population, according to the institute.

Johnson said the council wants to work hand-in-hand with the University to develop facilities and networking opportunities for researchers.

The council members observed a Japanese life sciences complex, which gave them ideas they might use when building a new research facility in Minneapolis, possibly on the University campus, Johnson said.

To be successful, Minnesota must be a leader in cell growth technology, which the University researches, she said. Minnesota is dependent on the device-manufacturing industry, she said.

“Instead of implanting a heart pacemaker, 30 years from now you’ll grow your own new pacemaker,” Johnson said.

Dave Durenberger, president of the Gustilo Medical Education Center on the Hennepin County Medical Center campus, said the hospital collaborates with many University faculty members on research.

The medical center is along the life sciences corridor on Chicago Avenue South, home to a dense concentration of hospitals and doctors, a key part of developing biosciences in the city, Durenberger said.

The goal of developing the area is to increase clinical research and efficiency while making patient care better, he said.

Dr. Joan Bechtold, a University professor and an orthopedic biomechanics director at area foundations, researches at the medical center’s trauma center, focusing on broken bones, infections, joint replacements and spinal problems.

Her research goal is “to enhance healing when you have a reduced healing environment,” like an area with an infection, she said.

She works closely with doctors to make sure research actually helps patients, instead of just developing interesting technology, she said.

Since the medical center is also a University teaching facility, the orthopedic department staff Bechtold works with has ties to the institution, she said.

She said she has worked with synthetic materials to encourage tissue growth, such as creating artificial arteries.

Bechtold also researches the use of bone marrow tissue to increase bone growth around a synthetic implant, she said.

Besides possibly bringing more money to her research, the trip to Japan likely will also cultivate collaborations with scientists overseas who will bring new outlooks to her research, Bechtold said.

“Collaborations are really necessary,” she said.