Interviews & Opinions


Aiming for research with a greater contribution to society during future pandemics


Namkoong Ho
Assistant Professor, School of Medicine, Department of Infectious Diseases, Keio University

Q1: What led you to a career in infectious disease medicine?

A1: An interest in global health and public health and inspiration from medical doctors working in developing countries.

I enrolled in medical school simply because I wanted to help people. From that background, my academic interest revolved around global health and public health, and while studying, I sensed that infectious diseases and global health were closely intertwined, which helped to develop a strong fascination with the field of infectious diseases.

My aspirations took shape in my fifth year of medical school when I took a year off to participate in a four-month internship at a hospital in South India. The young and talented doctors working there were passionate about acquiring new knowledge and skills and worked hard to learn medicine, even in an environment with insufficient medical supplies. On witnessing this reality, I came to realize that developing expertise, transferring knowledge and skills to others, and conducting joint research would be the best way to contribute to global health, and I was determined to pursue a career in research.

In my first trip abroad after the pandemic, I was able to spend irreplaceable time with my family.

Q2: What was your involvement with the COVID-19 pandemic?

A2: I was a "Coordinator" in the Japan COVID-19 Task Force established to develop a research system capable of enduring a pandemic.

While studying abroad at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic occurred which forced me to temporarily discontinue my studies. At the same time, a research group was being organized at Keio University to "study the host genome of the COVID-19 infections," for which I volunteered.

The Japan COVID-19 Task Force is a research network composed of approximately 500 researchers in various disciplines from more than 100 universities and research institutions. As a "Coordinator," I manage the entire system. I was responsible for establishing an electronic information system of clinical research data, called Electronic Data Capture, as well as managing patient specimens obtained at clinical sites, disseminating information to researchers and society, and responding to inquiries and consultations from researchers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan was criticized for its lack of research results due to the excessive strain on the clinical workforce as well as inadequate information sharing among researchers. To prevent its recurrence in the future, it is critical to build a resilient research system for a pandemic before it begins and a system in which the involvement in research activities imposes no additional burden on healthcare workers, but instead benefits them.

Instead of organizing a top-down collaborative research system by simply bringing together multiple centers, we should build a bottom-up research system based on the shared feelings of patients, researchers, healthcare workers, and society. In my PRESTO research project, which is supported by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, I am implementing research ideas on how to deploy restricted medical resources efficiently and to maximize their value while ensuring fairness and transparency, an idea which came to me during my involvement in the Joint Research Coronavirus Task Force.

Q3: Would you like to say a few words to younger aspiring researchers?

A3: Show courage and gain some experience through dialogue or networking while conducting research that engages with society.

In recent years, I feel that results are being accumulated, not only by one researcher, but also via collaboration among many peers. Considering this, students must experience partnerships with people beyond their own field. It is essential to go abroad and broaden your horizon as well. Continue to communicate and network with different people to gain confidence and experience.

Another pandemic is definitely expected in the future. In counter to this, I learn from past experiences, think about what I can do now, and strive to do my best every day. Research on infectious diseases is a very attractive and rewarding vocation because it allows one to engage with society through medicine and research. If anyone reading this article intends to pursue a career in the field of infectious diseases, we welcome you to participate in research with us.

At an international conference in Brisbane, Australia, I presented my research on nontuberculous mycobacteria.

(TEXT: Kazuyuki Katayanagi)


Namkoong Ho

Assistant Professor, School of Medicine, Department of Infectious Diseases, Keio University

A Tokyo born Korean national. After completing a doctoral course at the Graduate School of Medicine at Keio University in 2015 and obtaining a Ph.D. (Medicine), he undertook several positions, including Clinical Fellow at the Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Division of Medicine of Keio University Hospital; Deputy Director of the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at Eiju General Hospital; and Visiting Fellow at the Laboratory of Clinical Immunology and Microbiology of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He assumed his current position as a researcher in the Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology (PRESTO) program in 2021.

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