Obituary: Teruo Okuma, MD, PhD (1926–2010)


Dr Teruo Okuma, a prominent figure in the fields of psychiatry and medicine in Japan, passed away on 15 September 2010. He was 83 years old.

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Born in Okayama in 1926, Dr Okuma joined the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Tokyo School of Medicine in 1953. Over a long career spanning some 30 years, which included work at Juntendo University, the University of Tokyo, Tottori University, and Tohoku University, Dr Okuma made unparalleled contributions to both pre- and postgraduate medical education. The many psychiatrists and researchers that he mentored went on themselves to foster numerous talented professionals.

At the same time, as a researcher, Dr Okuma recorded a large volume of accomplishments. His research extended across a variety of fields, and was particularly notable in psychopharmacology, where he was the first in the world to discover the antimanic properties of the anti-epileptic drug carbamazepine. He also conducted neurophysiological research on dreams, research on epilepsy, and electroencephalography, which led to the establishment of the standard method of electroencephalogram analysis in Japan. During this period, Dr Okuma also contributed to the founding and development of numerous domestic and international academic associations, including the Japanese Society of Sleep Research, the Japanese Society of Electroencephalography and Electromyography (the present Japanese Society of Clinical Neurophysiology), the Japanese Society of Biological Psychiatry, the Japanese Society of Neuropsychopharmacology, the World Psychiatric Association, and the Asian Sleep Research Society.

In 1986, Dr Okuma was appointed director of the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry (NCNP) Musashi Hospital (the present National Center Hospital, NCNP), when the Center was newly established. He later acceded to the post of center president, where until 1994 he stood at the pinnacle of Japanese psychiatric and medical research, and from which position he strove to improve the overall level of psychiatric and medical research in Japan. At the same time, as chairman of the Special Committee on Neuroscience and Mental Problems of the Science Council of Japan, Dr Okuma was responsible for assembling the opinions and views of scholars from the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences; he then used these as the foundation for a set of recommendations to national government.

This triggered Japan's ‘Decade of the Brain,’ which was accompanied by large budget allocations for neuroscience and mental health research. As a result, research in this field expanded dramatically, and its impact continues today. The recommendations compiled by Dr Okuma can truly be considered to have been the catalyst for research into the brain and the world of the mind.

In recognition of his accomplishments, in 1998 Dr Okuma was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Second Class, with Gold and Silver Star, by the Emperor of Japan.

Although Dr Okuma's refined appearance and style brought to mind the image of the classic serious researcher, in actuality he was an amicable, warm person. One well-known episode occurred when his wife was hospitalized for an extended period due to illness. Each and every day for many years, Dr Okuma made a point of attending to her evening meal. This anecdote truly illustrates Dr Okuma's boundless compassion.

Although Dr Okuma is no longer with us in person, he will no doubt live on for a long time to come in the hearts of his family and the many people by whom he was deeply loved and respected.

May he rest in peace.