Med student programs AI to diagnose disease / Kyushu Univ. ‘start-up club’ turns ideas into business

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Osamu Iizuka, left, and Kosuke Saigusa work to develop a software product in Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, on Feb. 6.

By Kazuya Okubo / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKyushu University’s Kigyobu — literally meaning entrepreneurs club — which aims to help its students establish start-up companies, recently gave rise to its first such company, Medmain Inc. The club was established in June last year.

Medmain is a company that develops software products for making diagnoses with pathology images. Osamu Iizuka, 26, president of the company and a fourth-year student of the university’s School of Medicine, said, “As a start-up born from Kyushu University, we aim to expand our business to the whole world.”

In early February, Iizuka was developing the software in the company’s office in Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, staring at a computer screen until late at night.

“I can concentrate on my favorite things for many hours,” Iizuka said.

Kosuke Saigusa, 22, one of the founding members of the company and a fourth-year student of the university’s Faculty of Engineering, praised Iizuka. “Though he’s a student of the School of Medicine, he knows a lot about programming. His ability to concentrate is immense,” he said.

Medmain is developing a software product that uses an artificial intelligence program to judge, for example, whether a person is suffering from a disease. The AI can recognize a huge number of pathology images.

There is a nationwide shortage of pathologists, who diagnose the causes of diseases by analyzing factors such as patients’ tissue samples. There have been cases of it taking several weeks for small medical facilities to get results when asking large hospitals to make such diagnoses. However, it is said that using this kind of software would make it possible to get results in about five minutes.

In November last year, Iizuka won the championship of a business plan contest in the United States. In January, four students from the university’s School of Medicine and Faculty of Engineering, including Iizuka, established Medmain.

Several companies in Japan, the United States, South Korea and other countries are developing similar software products.

Medmain can easily obtain a large volume of data, as it has jointly been developing the software with Kyushu University Hospital, and also because it can use the university’s supercomputer.

Iizuka said: “Utilizing the software leads to a speedy pathological diagnosis, and we will be able to help save the lives of patients. We want to make the software a commercially available product within two years and list the company’s shares within five years.”

Currently, the Kigyobu club has about 80 members. It has set a goal of helping to launch five start-ups annually on average. Entrepreneurs and lawyers who are alumni of the university teach the club members about business strategies and legal affairs.

Iizuka joined the club in October last year. Initially, he wanted to become a medical researcher. But he became interested in programming while analyzing data, and then began considering the development of software for medical use.

“I can learn how to start a business, and the university as a whole has a system to assist us. I’m encouraged,” Iizuka said.

Currently, other groups in the Kigyobu club are making preparations for establishing companies.

Masaki Kumano, 44, an associate professor of the university and adviser for the club, said: “It’s young people with the power of ideas and energy who will create a new era. I hope other club members will be stimulated by Medmain and follow suit.”

Making use of students’ ideas

The number of start-up companies born from universities was about 1,850 in a fiscal 2016 survey by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry. Such start-up companies are established by better utilizing the results of university studies or the ideas of students.

In April last year, Kyushu University began a program to assist in fostering start-up businesses born at the university. The program aims to help establish start-up firms based on the results of studies by university professors and other teaching staff.

The program provides ¥2 million each to proposals seen as highly feasible. In this fiscal year, 10 proposals were selected.Speech

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