Tetsuro Fujiwara was born in Morioka, Japan, in 1931. He obtained an MD degree from Iwate Medical University in 1956 and Dr. Med. Sci. from Tohoku University School of Medicine in 1961. Fujiwara began his career as an assistant at Tohoku University hospital in 1961. Between 1962-1964, he went on a fellowship in pediatric cardiology at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), then as a research assistant in pediatrics (1966-1969) at UCLA. In 1970, he was appointed Associate Professor at Akita University School of Medicine in Morioka and in 1981, he became Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Iwate Medical University in Marioka. He is currently Emeritus Professor at Iwate Medical University.
Professor Fujiwara’s interest in neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), associated with the so-called “hyaline membrane disease,” started from the early years of his career. This disease was the most frequent cause of death of newborn babies, accounting for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually worldwide. Over a period of 15 years, he carried out joint physiologic and biochemical studies with Professor Forrest H. Adams at UCLA on premature animals and premature infants, which confirmed that the fundamental problem in RDS was the lack in the lungs of premature babies of a material known as “surfactant.” Without this material, a newborn baby could not breathe normally at birth, and must be provided with the surfactant as soon as possible, if there was to be any chance for its survival. After initial studies with natural surfactant extracted from animals, Fujiwara developed an effective synthetic surfactant for surfactant replacement therapy in pre-mature infants with RDS. Subsequent clinical studies by Fujiwara and his group confirmed the value of synthetic pulmonary surfactant therapy in restoring mechanical properties of the lungs, thereby leading to a marked improvement in gas exchange and oxygenation. The group also developed the “microtubule test” for prediction of RDS based on testing the amniotic fluid from the mother or gastric aspirate from the neonate.
Professor Fujiwara authored or co-authored hundreds of research papers and more than 90 books. In addition to the King Faisal International Prize for Medicine, he received the Japan Medical Association Award for Promotion of Medical Research, the Japanese Pediatric Society Prize and the Nippon Culture Award. He is a member of several medical and scientific societies and former President of the Japanese Pediatric Society, the Japan Society of Neonatology, the Japan Medical Association and the Japan Medical Society for Biological Interface. He is also an Honorary Member of the Italian Society of Prenatal Medicine, Advisor to the International Pediatric Society and Member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Pediatrics.
Dr. Fujiwara, has been awarded the prize, for his research on gaseous metabolism in premature infants and the development of improved methods of treating respiratory distress syndrome. The discovery that this syndrome is a surfactant-deficiency state led him towards searching and eventually developing an improved artificial surfactant. His studies with a diagnostic test for the prediction of the development of respiratory distress syndrome, based on testing amniotic fluid from the mother or gastric aspirate from the newborn, made another significant contribution to the early detection and treatment of that condition.