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The Sahker Lab



Population Health & Policy Research Unit

Medical Education Center

Graduate School of Medicine

Kyoto University


We are located in the Population Health and Policy Research Unit, Center for Medical Education and Internationalization, Graduate School of Medicine at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan.

Our research investigates the substance use treatment pathway (access, success, and recovery). We conduct clinical epidemiology studies of addiction treatment to discover factors supporting successful treatment outcomes with consideration of health disparities and recovery capital. Currently, we are focused on clinical epidemiology and policy studies, depression treatment studies, and improving access by advancing evidence-based brief intervention technologies in primary care.

Our lab is also focused on positive network-oriented mentorship in research. We are always looking for students who want to participate in conducting research.

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Current Research Projects

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Unguided Internet-Based Motivational Interviewing (UiMI)

This project is focused on evaluating the state-of-the-art in UiMI across healthcare disciplines. Findings will help identify the populations and intervention components that make up UiMI. We will aim to provide a scoping overview of unguided UiMI to understand how and with whom these internet-based therapies are applied. Findings will help in understanding if UiMI is correctly applied, with which populations it works, what components are best, and the overall efficacy by health condition. These finding will further aid in the development of our own smartphone application.


Stem Cell Therapies in Addiction

Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have the ability to change into many different types of cells in an organism. For addiction, we know that dopaminergic (DA) neurons are associated with craving, learning, and planning unhealth alcohol and drug use. Stem cell therapy may be a helpful intervention for addictive disorders via the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, or through other mechanisms. We have identified three main types of stem cells used in addiction studies: embryonic stem cells (ESCs), induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Each of these have their own unique properties and uses.

This study is evaluating the current state of stem cell therapies in addiction science. Findings will help identify and organize the progress made in the field so far and the most common methods/results. We will aim to provide a scoping overview of this research to understand how the studies are conducted and where they have been most effective. Findings will help us plan and develop new research in important areas of stem cell therapies for addiction treatment.

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Brief Intervention using Genetic Risk Education (BIGRe)

The estimated disease burden due to alcohol-related esophageal cancer in Japan is large, with 5,279 cancer deaths and 102,988 disability adjusted life years lost per year. Through personalized medicine and public health genetics approaches, this study will determine the efficacy of an internet-based brief intervention for people who screen positive for alcohol use and the ALDH2*2 genotype. This allele, identified by a flushing response, is associated with an increased risk for esophageal cancers. If effective, this genetic risk education intervention can be shared through public health initiatives in clinics, hospitals, or broadcast public service announcements to reduce Japanese healthcare costs and improve family and social wellbeing.


Community-Based Group Psychoeducation for Students

This project is aimed at developing an interdepartmental and international network with the goal of creating academic programming and research for improving individual and collective well-being and resilience of Japanese University Students. First we are conducting a needs assessment from students, faculty, and staff. Findings will help set a foundation for the development of an evidence-based psychoeducational support group for Japanese universities. Next, we will implement a weekly community-based psychoeducation group with an emphasis in prevention, social support, and skill acquisition to beneficial to the students, their social networks, the university, and the surrounding community as a whole.


Other Ongoing Projects

  • The Smallest Worthwhile Difference - Patient important outcomes in mental health and addiction
  • Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Integration - Clinical epidemiology and policy implications
  • Prescription Drug Misuse - Clinical epidemiology and policy implications
  • Prescription Opioid Drug Policy Evaluation - Doctor, pharmacist, and patient regulation assessments
  • University Student Mental Health - Health disparities investigation


Director: Ethan Sahker, PhD
Population Health & Policy Research Unit, Medical Education Center
Kyoto University
Kyoto, Japan