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New Japan research center itching to solve that scratchy sensation

Kenji Takamori, left, is seen at the Juntendo Itch Research Center in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, on Sept. 12, 2019. (Mainichi/Tamiko Kobayashi)

URAYASU, Chiba -- Asia's first-ever research center devoted to discovering the causes and cures for itching has opened at Juntendo University's Institute for Environmental and Gender-Specific Medicine.

The Juntendo Itch Research Center (JIRC) just east of Tokyo, which began operations on Aug. 1, is tackling "intractable pruritus," or itches resistant to existing treatment, such as antihistamines and moisturizers. It joins a number of institutions in Germany and the United States founded in recent years to scratch out answers on itchiness.

The Institute for Environmental and Gender-Specific Medicine was launched in 2002, receiving education ministry subsidies for private universities to establish strategic research organizations, among other aid. Since then, it has been studying the root causes of intractable itchiness as well as itch prevention and treatment methods. Seeking to deepen this research and develop new treatments, the institute decided to establish the dedicated itch center. Institute director Kenji Takamori, a dermatologist and specially appointed professor, was also brought in to run the project.

"Sometimes itches are so bad the person cannot sleep," pointed out Takamori. "Itchiness reduces quality of life and the ability to concentrate, and can have a negative impact on society and the economy."

According to Takamori, itchiness had previously been considered a form of low-grade pain, holding back research. Recently, though, it has been confirmed that the feeling of itchiness is transmitted by different nerves than the ones responsible for pain.

An itch is most often caused by dry skin. However, in some cases it is also a symptom of drug reactions or internal diseases including diabetes, renal failure and cirrhosis of the liver.

The JIRC's 25 staff members are aiming to uncover the biological mechanisms behind itchiness and effective treatments through a combination of experimental and clinical medicine.

The center has posted a variety of information for the general public, including how to deal with itchiness, causes of the sensation, and details of its latest research on its website at (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Tamiko Kobayashi, Funabashi Bureau)

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