Joseph Tucker, MD, PhD, is the Director of UNC Project-China. Myron Cohen, MD, is the Director of UNC’s Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases. Dr. Cohen and his wife Gail Henderson, PhD, first began working in China in 1989. UNC researchers organize an annual training for Chinese researchers as well as American medical students. Below Drs. Tucker and Cohen reflect on how UNC Project-China has evolved, and students who attended this September’s South China-UNC STI Training Course & Research Workshop blog about how learning from top faculty in the US and UK is improving the field of sexual health treatment, STI prevention and research.
In 1989, UNC Professors Gail Henderson, PhD, and Myron (Mike) Cohen, MD, travelled through Guangzhou, in southern China near Hong Kong, en route to an infectious diseases collaborative US-China research project. At that point, there was no U.S. Embassy in China, and it was one of the very first US-China medical research programs.
Now, 26 years later, a UNC team is trailblazing collaborative infectious disease research projects in South China.
In 2010, the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases (IGHID) recruited Joseph Tucker, MD, PhD, to form a center for excellence in China focused on sexual health research, teaching and service. This center is UNC Project-China.
The UNC Project-China pools talent and resources from three Chinese institutions: Guangdong Provincial Dermatology and STD Control Center, Guangzhou Eighth People’s Hospital and the Sun Yat-sen University. Chinese leaders include Dr. Bin Yang (Guangdong Provincial Center), Dr. Weiping Cai (Guangzhou Eighth People’s Hospital), and Dr. Yuantao Hao (Sun Yat-sen University).
This unique and important partnership led to the “UNC-South China Training Center” supported by a five-year grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fogarty International Center. This training center support was unusual because of the extent to which Chinese financial support was integrated into the overall strategy, setting the stage for a strong and sustainable collaborative partnership.
Every year since its inception, the UNC Project-China has grown. On Sept. 9th, three UNC Chapel Hill faculty, Professors Ronald Swanstrom, PhD; J. Victor Garcia, PhD; and Kevin Robertson, PhD, all took part in a day-long symposium focused on HIV cure research. This conference was the first of its kind in the region, drawing an audience of more than 100 individuals and many exuberant reviews.
This event has been followed by a series of workshops and one-on-one research mentoring sessions attended by UNC faculty including Cohen, Arlene Seña-Soberano, MD, MPH, and William Miller, MD, PhD, MPH. A select group of 24 junior STD/HIV investigators in the region had one-hour meetings with UNC training faculty in addition to a one-hour meeting with a UNC health sciences librarian, Jennifer Walker, MLS, and Mellanye Lackey, MSI. Trainees also had an opportunity to benefit from the mentorship of Kevin Fenton, MD, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England; Rosanna Peeling, PhD, Chair of Diagnostics Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM); David Mabey, MD, PhD, Professor at LSHTM; Chongyi Wei, DrPH, MA, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF); and many others.
The UNC Project-China now has six postdoctoral fellows, including Weiming Tang, PhD, and Songyuan Tang, PhD, who both studied public health at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA); Lai Sze Tso, PhD, who studied sociology at the University of Michigan; Haochu Li, PhD, and Ngai Sze Wong, PhD, who both studied public health at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; and Andrea Shahum, MD, PhD, who studied infectious diseases at UNC. Fogarty Fellows supported by the UJMT consortium include Weiming Tang, PhD, and Fengying Liu. The Program also hosts two U.S. medical students: Jessica Mao of UCLA and Yilu (Lulu) Qin of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner School of Medicine supported by fellowships from Fogarty-Fulbright and Doris Duke respectively.
The UNC Project-China has been remarkably successful. The trainees had a total of 14 abstracts at international conferences, 25 research manuscripts and two UJMT Fogarty Global Health Fellowships. In addition, our trainees had two original research studies accepted for presentation at the Lancet-Chinese Academy of Sciences Summit in Beijing. The UNC team also was commissioned to write seven distinct systematic reviews to inform three sets of World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines – HIV testing, antiretrovirals (ARV), and hepatitis testing guidelines. The Training Center has been extremely productive at the UNC center in Guangzhou with several regional research awards, a WHO commission and new research positions for trainees.
One unique focus is SESH – social entrepreneurship for sexual health. The SESH goal is to leverage entrepreneurial concepts, like crowdsourcing, to improve public health. The SESH (www.seshglobal.org) research team was selected by the WHO-TDR group as one of 25 global innovators as part of their Social Innovation in Health Initiative.
The UNC Project-China has grown rapidly, and is leading to strong, stable collaborations and activities important to China and global health. Now in the midst of our yearly meetings, we have asked three of our students to blog about our recent three-day training.