Wu Family China Center for Health Initiatives Frontiers in Biomedicine 3: 2019 Joint Symposium


Julia Hickey

The willow-lined shore of Hangzhou’s tranquil West Lake, which has inspired centuries of Chinese painters and poets, was the setting for top American and Chinese minds in medicine last fall during a joint symposium titled “Frontiers in Biomedicine 3.” The Wu Family China Center for Health Initiatives at VP&S brought together 23 speakers from VP&S and the Zhejiang University School of Medicine (ZUSM) and more than 90 audience members in Hangzhou, China, for a series of presentations on cutting-edge biomedical research.

Shared interests emerged among the American and Chinese investigators: genomic surgery using CRISPR technology; precision medicine and development of therapeutic targets for various cancers; and mechanisms and treatments of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes. Indeed, obesity and related chronic diseases, long-established as American afflictions, are dramatically rising in China. As well, Chinese patients experience higher odds of co-morbidities for a given BMI, compared with Caucasians, after standardizing for age and sex, according to a presentation by Dr. Shankuan Zhu, director of nutrition and food hygiene at Zhejiang University’s School of Public Health. 

The symposium was the third of its kind, following joint symposia between VP&S and ZUSM at Columbia in New York City in 2018 and at the Zheijiang School of Medicine campus in Hangzhou, China, in 2017. These symposia were made possible by the endowment to VP&S of funds from the late Clyde Wu’56 and Helen Wu to create the Wu Family China Center, which builds on their legacy of support for collaborations between Chinese and American doctors and biomedical researchers. Dr. David Wu (Dr. and Mrs. Wu’s son) and his wife, Dr. Bernadine Wu, represented the family at the symposium. David Ho, MD, the Clyde and Helen Wu Professor of Medicine, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, and director of the Wu Family China Center at VP&S, presented Columbia’s opening remarks. 

A few presentations addressed the technological potential for large-scale studies across populations. Wendy Chung, MD, PhD, the Kennedy Family Professor of Pediatrics (in Medicine) at VP&S, delivered a remote video presentation about the use of exome/genome sequencing to diagnose newborns with birth defects as a way to improve survival rates. She also introduced the SPARK study for Autism, an online cohort of more than 200,000 subjects who have provided saliva samples for DNA data that are freely accessible. Wei Wu, vice director of the endocrinology department of Children’s Hospital at ZUSM, introduced the 2016 to 2020 PERIODIC Study (PrevalEnce for Obesity and Diabetes in Children), which uses a urine sugar test to identify Chinese schoolchildren who are at a high risk of developing diabetes. Each subject is monitored via a QR code assigned by the WeChat smartphone app. 

Edward Guo, PhD, the Stanley Dicker Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, mapped differences in the bone structures of Caucasians and Chinese patients and showed that Chinese have lower bone fracture rates. He has developed a mobile medical imaging unit in an RV in China to drive across the Chinese countryside for his “Silk Road” musculoskeletal genetic research.

Susan Rosenthal, PhD, professor of medical psychology (in pediatrics and psychiatry) at VP&S, discussed leadership methods for addressing burnout in medical workplaces by identifying that workers reach sustainable “flow” when challenges are matched to their skill level. Paul Lee, MD, the Misook Doolittle Professor of Medicine at CUMC, also addressed American medical culture by outlining the impact of restrictions on resident duty hours and the subsequent development of hospitalism as the fastest-rising medical specialty in the United States.

A highlight of the symposium was the announcement of the winner of the 2019 Wu Family China Center Pilot Award, which funds Chinese postdoctoral medical students to complete research at VP&S for one year. Utpal Pajvani, MD, PhD, the Herbert Irving Associate Professor of Medicine at VP&S, and Dr. Chengfu Xu, associate professor of gastroenterology at the First Affiliated Hospital, ZUSM, will receive support for a collaborative project, “Nanoparticle notch inhibitors for treatment of type 2 diabetes.”