Full-time Hokkaido University faculty member and CEO Amano Maho aims to spread ‘Opto- diagnostics’

From an early age, Amano liked to read and yearned to be an editor. “My current job of thinking how to spread excellent technology into the world is similar to that of an editor,” she says.

A serving CEO of a university-launched start-up company has become the first to concurrently serve as a full-time faculty member of Hokkaido University. During the day, Amano Maho works as a lecturer at the Graduate School of Medicine and, at night, her attention turns to business strategies and fundraising as an executive aiming to promote ‘opto-diagnostics’ to determine the effects of leukemia drugs before they are put to use.
Born in Osaka Prefecture, Amano attained a doctorate from the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Tokyo, and became an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Life Sciences, Hokkaido University in 2007. Subsequently, when the endowed chair she was in charge of came to an end, she decided to take on a new challenge, and became a specialist in supporting the commercialization of promising research results within the university.
It was there that she came across ‘opto-diagnostics’ developed by Professor Ohba Yusuke of the Department of Cell Physiology. When cancer cells taken from a patient are administered with a drug for chronic myelogenous leukemia, they appear blue when the drug works and yellow when it does not. The effects and side effects of the drugs can be clearly seen at a glance, which was previously impossible to understand without actually administering the drugs. Amano was convinced that this was revolutionary technology, but the testing companies were hesitant in purchasing the technology due to it being unprecedented and novel. In 2007, she moved to the Institute of Biomedical Research and began her own business.
The company name, HILO is an acronym for Horizon Illumination Lab Optics. Amano was moved by the sincerity of patients who said, “I had to quit my job because of side effects that diarrhea,” and “The medication kept changing, and it was expensive,” and renewed her determination to “want to light up the dark-sea-like anxiety” they felt. She aims to collect more data and obtain pharmaceutical approval within five years.