Annual JI Symposium draws largest-ever delegation of foreign doctors to UMHS

Good science transcends culture, language and distance, as it did last month during an annual symposium that attracted a large group of China’s top physician scientists to the University of Michigan Health System.

PUHSC President Qimin Zhan, one of China’s foremost authorities on Precision Medicine, leads a symposium panel discussion on the subject.

Faculty members from China’s Peking University Health Science Center, the country’s premier medical school and research institution, joined UMHS colleagues and collaborators in Ann Arbor for the Symposium of the Joint Institute (JI) for Translational and Clinical Research. In all, 75 PUHSC faculty members made the 14-hour journey from Beijing, the largest single delegation of visiting scholars ever hosted by the University of Michigan Medical School.

“It is unusual to have people from such different cultures, with different languages, different approaches, and different ways of working, to partner with each other. What we are doing together is remarkable,” said Joseph C. Kolars, the Josiah Macy, Jr. Professor of Health Professions Education and Senior Associate Dean for Education and Global Initiatives.

The annual meeting, which took place Oct. 12-14, is organized through Global REACH. In six short years since its launch, the UMHS-PUHSC JI has grown to include more than 30 ongoing research projects, each led by a PI from both institutions, across a number of fields, including liver, pulmonary, renal, cardiovascular and other diseases. This year’s symposium, which took place Oct. 12-14, featured keynote speeches from PUHSC President Qimin Zhan and UMMS Dean Marschall Runge.

“With the Joint Institute, there are many opportunities to leverage our strengths when you take both of these great institutions together,” said Runge, MD. “I know that we have complimentary research strengths and a unique potential for discovery.”

Among the Chinese doctors who traveled to Ann Arbor for the event was Yuwu Jiang, MD, PhD. A pediatrician at PUHSC, Dr. Jiang is partnering with U-M Pharmacology Professor Lori Isom, PhD, on a joint study to better understand genetic causes of epilepsy in children. The two met at an international pediatrics conference last year and began planning their joint research project, among eight new studies to be funded this year through the JI. The opportunity to meet again in person at the symposium will accelerate their work, Jiang said.

“This was my first opportunity to visit Lori’s lab, meet her team and see how it runs,” he said. “You have to meet face to face to be able to understand one another more precisely. Collaborating always just by telephone or email isn’t enough.”

In addition to the scientific expertise, among the major benefits of partnering with PUHSC is sheer size of the system. The center is affiliated with more than a dozen hospitals in the Beijing area.

“The population there is a huge resource. If you study a relatively uncommon disease here, you may have five patients to study. There, they have 500,” said Dr. Eugene Chen, U-M Frederick Huetwell Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and a co-leader of the JI’s extensive cardiovascular disease program. “In addition, each side brings different expertise and experience, so we can learn a lot from each other. This meeting is an opportunity not only for existing partners to get together, but also for people to meet new partners.”

The Symposium took place primarily at the Rackham School for Graduate Studies, but also included hospital and medical campus tours, as well as satellite meetings at the North Campus Research Center, among other places. There were individual partner meetings, group meetings around distinct illness areas, and panel discussions. Next year’s meeting will be in Beijing.

“This is an important partnership, and we enjoyed every second of our visit to Ann Arbor,” PUHSC President Qimin Zhan said at the close of the final session. “We look forward to hosting an even larger delegation next year.”

 Read more about the Joint Institute and the Sixth Annual JI Symposium at www.puuma.org

Delegates from PUHSC and their U-M research partners pose for a photo outside of Rackham Graduate School.