P&S Expands Its Global Reach with New Program in China

The new Wu Center for Global Health Initiatives will oversee pilot research projects and exchanges of faculty and fellows
By Peter Wortsman

“If you give a man a fish he will have a single meal. If you teach him how to fish he will eat all his life,” wrote the Chinese philosopher Guan Zhong in the 7th century B.C. In the pedagogical spirit of this ancient wisdom, P&S and Zhejiang University School of Medicine, based in Hangzhou, China, have signed an agreement to collaborate on various research initiatives and educational exchanges.

The new Wu Center for Global Health Initiatives (with a focus on China) was established with a significant endowment from Columbia University Trustee Emeritus Clyde Y.C. Wu’56, and his wife, Helen Tseng Wu, with the endorsement of P&S Dean Lee Goldman. The center will oversee joint pilot research projects and exchanges of faculty and fellows at the two institutions.

Founded in 1912, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, which now comprises eight faculties and seven affiliated teaching hospitals, has risen to position itself as a leader in the 21st century and a fitting partner for P&S. The Chinese government is in the process of expanding its investment in education, the biomedical research infrastructure, and biotechnology. Zhejiang, one of China’s flagship institutions of higher learning, went through a recent administrative reorganization to meet the medical needs of the future.

The mission of the Wu Center, according to its founders, Dr. and Mrs. Wu, is to permit faculty from two outstanding institutions, and from others that may later join the endeavor, to put their minds together to pursue research and teaching in the medical sciences to benefit all. “Both the U.S. and China have great traditions of learning in many fields, including the medical sciences,” says Dr. Wu. “Each has proven strengths. Each can learn from the other and together develop treatment regimens and models of teaching and clinical care of universal significance.”

Dongrong Xu, PhD, associate professor of clinical neuro-biology (in psychiatry) at P&S and an expert in the application of MRI to brain studies, holds an adjunct faculty appointment at Zhejiang University, his alma mater, and will serve as a pivotal academic link between the two institutions.

“It is an amazing bilateral possibility for professors in various departments and fields at P&S to become involved in research initiatives with professors at Zhejiang,” says Stanley Chang’74, the K.K. Tse and Ku Teh Ying Professor of Ophthalmology at P&S, who will co-chair a committee of faculty advisers for the center. “I’m sure all parties will derive great benefits from it.”

“An investment in the health and welfare of other institutions and other countries is an investment in our own health and welfare,” says Scott Hammer’72, the Harold C. Neu Professor of Infectious Diseases (in Medicine) at P&S, co-chair of the committee of faculty advisers.

Other members of the committee of faculty advisers are John Bilezikian’69, Ajay Kirtane’98, Maria Oquendo’84, Myrna Weissman, PhD, Nancy Wexler, PhD, June Wu’96, and Michael Yin’96. Additional faculty are expected to join the committee.

"An investment in the health and welfare of other institutions and other countries is an investment in our own health and welfare."

An advisory board also has been created for the center. Members so far are Ann Kaplan, a Columbia University Trustee, chair of the Columbia University Trustees Global Committee, and partner in Circle Wealth Management, an investment advisory firm; Nina Sun, a trustee of Barnard College, co-president of the Columbia Alumni Association Shanghai, and founder and president of Sunnybund Consulting and Sunnybund Education; Zhe Sun, professor, Institute for International Studies, and director, Center for U.S.-China Relations, Tsinghua University; and Lady Ivy Wu, who serves as chair or member of advisory boards for numerous charitable organizations, including the Hong Kong Red Cross, Red Cross China, and the Hong Kong Federation of Women. Additional advisory board members will be named in China and the United States.

On a visit to P&S in December 2014, as part of a delegation from Zhejiang, Dr. Xiaoming Li, associate dean of Zhejiang University School of Medicine, outlined some of his institution’s plans for the collaboration with P&S. “In order to promote the collaboration between professors and researchers of the two universities,” he said, “discussions are currently under way for the two sides to hold an annual symposium to promote interaction in cutting-edge research and to encourage discussion of projects with potential for further collaboration.” Other members of the Chinese delegation were Dr. Weifang Zhang, vice president and director of international affairs, Office of Children’s Hospital, an affiliate of Zhejiang School of Medicine; Jing Chen, vice director of the Office of International Relations of ZJU School of Medicine; Drs. Manli Huang and Shaohua Hu, both members of the Department of Mental Health at the First Affiliated Hospital; and Dr. Xuan Xu, vice director of the personnel department at Zhejiang University and ZJU’s local coordinator for the greater New York metropolitan area.

The delegation from China was welcomed by Anke Nolting, PhD, inaugural director of the Wu Center, and met with selected members of the center’s faculty committee and several administrators.

Back to the Future, the Columbia Way

The link between Columbia University and Chinese institutions of higher learning goes back to the 1920s. Lecturing throughout China from 1919 to 1921, the renowned American philosopher John Dewey, who held a joint faculty appointment in the Department of Philosophy of Columbia University and at Columbia Teachers College, found welcome ears for his theories of progressive education. A student of Dewey’s at Columbia, Hu-Shi, who received a PhD degree in 1927 and honorary doctorate in law in 1939, would become known as the “father of the Chinese renaissance in education.” He returned to China to teach philosophy at Peking University, where he was later named president. He subsequently served as China’s ambassador to the United States.

Anke Nolting, right, escorts a delegation from China around the CUMC campus, Photo by Ricky Owens

Dr. Hu-Shi also served as a trustee of Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, an institution founded by the Rockefeller Foundation that would grow into one of China’s—and Asia’s—most prominent and influential medical schools. Several members of the PUMC faculty, including histologist Aura Severinghaus, surgeon-bacteriologist Frank Meleney (a 1916 P&S graduate), plastic surgeon Jerome Webster, and pharmacologist Harry Van Dyke, pursued their pioneering research while in China and later returned to the United States to join the faculty at P&S, where they further developed and applied their research findings. Among the most illustrious Chinese faculty members at PUMC was biochemist Hsien Wu, who developed the Folin-Wu Urine Test for blood sugar in collaboration with Otto Folin.

Prominent Columbians in China include two other presidents of Peking University, Chiang Monlin (PhD’1917 and a student of Dewey’s) and Ma Yinchu (PhD’1914). V.K. Wellington Koo (BA’1909, PhD’1912) was a Chinese diplomat present at the founding of the League of Nations and the United Nations.

Cognizant of this historic link and eager to build on it, Dr. and Mrs. Wu in 1994 established the Wu Sino-American Exchange Program at P&S for distinguished P&S faculty members to lecture in China and Chinese educators to visit P&S to observe the American medical school structure and curriculum and to direct a restructuring back home. Wu Fellows at P&S, many of whom went on to positions of leadership in China, have included Chen Zhu, former Chinese Minister of Health; PUMC Dean Zheng Chaoquiang and fellow educator Zhao Yupei, who successfully applied the lessons learned at Columbia in curriculum reform to the Chinese academic model;
Li Zuewang, who is prominent in renal disease and medical administration; Chen Shuchang, division chief of oncology and chemotherapy at PUMC; and Qin Shulin, now an established Chinese authority in HIV research.

The extraordinary philanthropy of Dr. and Mrs. Wu also has included the endowment of five professorships at P&S, creation of the Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology, generous support for the new medical education building under construction, and a host of other important initiatives at Columbia.

“The Wu Global Center is the crowning glory of Clyde and Helen’s largesse,” says P. Roy Vagelos’54, former chair and CEO of Merck & Co. and chair of Defining the Future, CUMC’s capital campaign.

Six Planned Collaborative Programs
(with Others in the Works)

Aura Severinghaus, Frank Meleney, Jerome Webster, and Harry Van Dyke were among P&S faculty who did research in China as far back as the 1920s.

The Wu Center will help encourage and foster collaborative programs with P&S based at Zhejiang University School of Medicine and its teaching hospitals in various fields, particularly those in which P&S has demonstrated excellence. These areas include endocrinology, neuroscience, infectious diseases, interventional cardiology, mental health, reconstructive surgery, and transplant surgery. Other areas include oncology, immune therapy, and ophthalmology.

John P. Bilezikian’69, the P&S Dorothy L. and Daniel H. Silberberg Professor of Medicine, professor of pharmacology, and chief of endocrinology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, is an internationally renowned investigator who has frequently lectured in China. He calls the new center a golden opportunity to extend his ongoing comparative study of the micro-architecture of bones as an indicator of risk for fracture due to osteoporosis in Chinese and Caucasian women. He also hopes to continue his practice of training and mentoring young researchers from China—and elsewhere—in his lab.

From left: Michael Yin’96, June Wu’96, and Scott Hammer’72, Photo by Ricky Owens

Like Dr. Bilezikian, Michael Yin’96, associate professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division, is interested in bones, but from a different perspective. An expert in HIV therapy and metabolic complications, he also holds a master’s degree from the Mailman School of Public Health and is engaged in ongoing investigations of bone health in HIV-infected women and perinatally HIV-infected children. He has lectured frequently in China and plans to take advantage of the Wu Center to pursue collaborative clinical research at Zhejiang.

June Wu’96, assistant professor of surgery at P&S and a rising star in plastic surgery, plans to introduce in China a biologically based model developed at P&S to treat patients with vascular anomalies. A native of Hong Kong, she has operated in China on young children with cleft lip and other birth anomalies.

The center is very much a Wu family venture. Dr. and Mrs. Wu’s sons, Roger Wu, MD, a child psychiatrist based in San Francisco, and David Wu, MD, a pulmonologist in Detroit, have expressed their strong commitment, as has Clyde Wu’s brother, Sir Gordon Wu, chairman of the board of the Hong Kong infrastructure firm Hopewell Holdings Ltd.

Center director Dr. Nolting will bring to the venture her years of experience and savvy as associate dean and executive director of alumni affairs and development at P&S. A forensic anthropologist by training, she also holds an MBA from Columbia’s business school. “I am thrilled to take on the reins of this exciting new challenge,” says Dr. Nolting. “It’s still a work in progress, but all the players and pieces are coming together. America and China have much to learn from each other, and I cannot imagine any better partners to engage in this dialogue than P&S and Zhejiang University School of Medicine. In addition, the dynamism of Hangzhou, one of China’s most ancient and beautiful cities and a hub of commerce and innovation in the 21st century that has been dubbed China’s Silicon Valley, makes it an ideal locale to launch this educational partnership.”

To Dr. and Mrs. Wu it is a matter of forging a lasting legacy, of bringing together the things that have mattered most to them: America, where they made their life; Columbia University, where Dr. Wu learned the art of medicine; and China, the country and culture that shaped their ideals. “We spread the good word and planted the seeds,” says Dr. Wu. “Now the time has come for others to plough the field and reap the fruits.”