New NTT Research & NCVC Bio Digital Twin Center Builds on Strength

The National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center (NCVC), a semi-independent national institution in Japan, is comprised of a world-class research hospital, an Open Innovation Center and a research institute with more than a dozen departments. And as announced earlier this month, thanks to ongoing work with NTT Research (NTTR) and its Medical & Health Informatics (MEI) Lab, it has a Bio Digital Twin Center. 

The NTTR-NCVC Bio Digital Twin Center takes a vibrant relationship into new territory. “This is the first collaboration of its kind in the entire history of NCVC, where it created a department together with a company partner,” MEI Lab Director Joe Alexander said. 

The new Center builds upon a two-and-a-half year joint research program launched in October 2020 and combines the NCVC’s specialized and institutional depth with the MEI Lab’s focus on creating a cardiovascular bio digital twin.   

The NCVC is well known for its cardiovascular clinical practice. According to a 2023 Newsweek-sponsored survey, NCVC ranks 15th among 300 of the world’s best specialized hospitals. But its cardiovascular research is also impressive. The NCVC Research Institute consists of 18 departments and laboratories that encompass an array of disciplines, including molecular pharmacology, vascular physiology, genomic medicine, biostatistics, to name a few. The new Center is closely aligned with one of its departments. 

The acting director of the Bio Digital Twin Center is Dr. Keita Saku, who was also the NCVC primary investigator during the initial joint research, and the laboratory chief is Dr. Kazunori Uemura. Both have served as lab chiefs in the NCVC Research Institute’s Department of Cardiovascular Dynamics, which was founded by Dr. Kenji Sunagawa. A professor emeritus in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Kyushu University, Dr. Sunagawa also trained Drs. Saku and Alexander at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Sunagawa was co-author with MEI Lab scientists of a published paper, “System Design for Optimizing Drug Infusions Using Cardiovascular Space Mapping for Acute Heart Failure,” (discussed here) and will continue to be engaged with the MEI Lab-NCVC collaboration going forward.

The NCVC is affiliated with the Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the counterpart to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But it has taken advantage of the flexibility afforded by its semi-independent status. Its Open Innovation Center, for instance, was set up to realize next-generation medical care and includes a Department of Industrial-Academic Collaboration. The NCVC’s work with the MEI Lab is a good example of its collaborating with industry to influence the future of healthcare. 

The two organizations to date have developed a mechanistic model of cardiovascular physiology and written several academic papers, including “Acute effects of empagliflozin on open-loop baroreflex function and urine glucose excretion in Goto-Kakizaki diabetic rats.” The new Center aims to continue working on applications and will lay the foundation for eventual clinical trials, which may still be a decade away. The Center notably will provide access to clinical data that will help translate to humans the mathematical models that have been derived and validated using animal experiments.

“This is an exciting expansion of our relationship with the NCVC,” Dr. Alexander said. “We anticipate that this new phase in collaboration will continue to accelerate our progress toward precision medicine, beginning with the cardiovascular bio digital twin.”