News and Events
A new dual degree initiative between the Bioinformatics departments at the University of Michigan Medical School and Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC) is set to launch next year.
|PUHSC Dean of Basic Sciences Yuxin Yin (left), led a recent delegation to Michigan Medicine in May to finalize plans for a new dual degree program in Bioinformatics.|
The program will bring top graduate students from China to Ann Arbor starting in the fall of 2019. Participants will split their time between U-M and the PUHSC campus in Beijing, earning a master’s degree from each institution. The initiative marks a meaningful expansion of the ongoing partnership between the two medical schools, collaborations that are administered through the UMMS-PUHSC Joint Institute for Translational and Clinical Research.
“This is taking a successful research platform and adding an education component, which will only serve to make the partnership stronger,” said UMMS Professor of Bioinformatics Margit Burmeister, PhD, who has long had partnerships in China and is helping to shape the new dual degree program.
“Big data is a good area to focus on because it is such a growth field. In China, they have strong traditional disciplines – medicine, engineering, computer science. But bioinformatics is about putting those individual disciplines together into a meaningful degree program, something we at U-M have a lot of experience in,” Burmeister said.
A leadership group from PUHSC visited Ann Arbor earlier this month to work through the program details with UMMS Joint Institute leaders and leaders from the Bioinformatics department. UMMS is set to take 4-5 students the first year, with an opportunity for program expansion down the road. In the course of three years, combining coursework and research, participants will earn a master’s in science from PUHSC and a master’s in bioinformatics from U-M.
|Implementing the dual degree program for Michigan Medicine are Bioinformatics Chair Brian Athey (left) and Professor of Bioinformatics Margit Burmeister.|
Bioinformatics uses computers to sort, analyze, and interpret the huge genomic datasets that are increasingly prevalent in precision healthcare. Michigan Medicine has one of the United States’ largest and most well established bioinformatics programs. PUHSC recently launched its own, and students are seeking any advantage to establish themselves in the relatively nascent field.
The new dual degree initiative with PUHSC follows a similar partnership with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen which will bring students from that campus to Ann Arbor to study bioinformatics beginning next year as well. In that case, the students will get an accelerated undergraduate degree from their home university and a master’s from UMMS.“Bioinformatics is growing so fast in China that many students want a master’s degree and then they want to begin their career. If a student is able to get a degree from both PUHSC and UM, that will set them apart,” said Yuxin Yin, MD, PhD, Dean of Basic Sciences and Director of the Institute of Systems Biomedicine at PUHSC. “There is a lot of interest in this program among our students.”
Such international partnerships benefit the UMMS bioinformatics program in the short-term and long-term, said Brian Athey, the Michael Savageau Collegiate Professor and Chair of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics.
“I’m very enthused about this partnership, including the possibility of expanding to get some of our students in China, too,” said Professor Athey. “Without question, China is the place where biotechnology is having the biggest growth and attracting the most investment currently, so being able to offer our students the opportunity to learn about what’s happening and make connections there is vital.”
|JI researchers Robert Brook, UMMS Professor of Cardiology (right), and UMMS Research Associate Robert Bard (left) visit the lab of Wei Huang, Peking University Professor of Public Health.|
Short-term exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause elevated blood pressure even in healthy adults, according to a newly published paper by Joint Institute researchers.
Michigan Medicine Professor of Cardiology Robert Brook and his partner, Research Professor Wei Huang at the Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC) School of Public Health, have been studying how air pollution impacts cardiovascular function in both Beijing and Ann Arbor. Their recent publication in the American Journal of Hypertension marked the first research of its kind to harmonize studies of healthy people in Beijing, where air pollution levels are typically high, against counterparts in southeast Michigan, with comparatively clean air.
“We’ve done international studies before and seen blood pressure-raising effects of air pollution in both Beijing and in Ann Arbor, but they were done with participants who are already at higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” said Brook, MD. “We’d never really done a comparative study with completely healthy people like this.”
Participants wore a small device to monitor air pollution levels for a 24-hour period before reporting to the clinic, where researchers took their blood pressure and gathered other biometric information. They repeated this process multiple times. The air quality data from their wearable monitors, supplemented with regional monitors in both locations, allowed the researchers to see if and how exposure to varying levels of pollution impacted blood pressure. In Michigan, there was no appreciable impact. Not so in Beijing, where the outdoor air pollution levels during the testing period were higher by factor of nearly 10.
“Even if you’re a healthy person living in Beijing, the pollution will still impact your blood pressure. The effect is typical of what we would expect to see if someone’s weight changed by five or ten pounds,” said Brook. “That kind of increase, while relatively modest at the individual level, cumulatively translates to a very large public health risk when you extrapolate across a city like Beijing of more than 20 million people.”
A forthcoming paper in the American Journal of Cardiology (in press) demonstrates the negative impacts Brook and Huang saw on HDL particle function in healthy subjects, and the team has garnered external funding for a future study exploring the effectiveness of face masks and indoor air filters in China.
“We now have a grant to study the effectiveness of face masks and indoor air filters for people with coronary artery disease,” Brook said. “This has been a phenomenal partnership. The best thing that’s happened has been forging collaborations with like-minded colleagues in cardiology and public health at PUHSC. The relationships have been really rewarding and have opened new doors for me.”
The newest edition of JI News features information about a new dual-degree program in Bioinformatics expected to bring students from PUHSC to study in Ann Arbor beginning next year. Read about Drs. Robert Brook and Wei Huang's work exploring the impacts of air pollution on cardiovascular function in populations in the U.S. and Beijing. Peking University People’s Hospital Attending Doctor Jing Zhou discusses his experience to date as a visiting research scholar at Michigan Medicine, and UMMS resident Mark Kluk makes time for some research during his clinical elective at Peking University First Hospital. Download the latest issue here.
BEIJING - As the world gets smaller, Michigan Medicine’s place in it gets bigger. That’s thanks to partnerships like the one which recently took nearly 80 faculty abroad to meet with research collaborators in China.
The annual Symposium of the Joint Institute between the University of Michigan Health System and Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC) took place last month in Beijing. In addition to faculty collaborators across numerous departments, the three-day meeting was attended by organizational leaders like Marschall Runge, MD, Michigan Medicine CEO and Medical School Dean., and Carol Bradford, MD, Executive Vice Dean for Academic Affairs. The annual meeting alternates each year between Ann Arbor and Beijing, and this marked Drs. Runge and Bradford’s first visit to the PUHSC campus in Beijing.
“This is clearly a very unique partnership. I’ve never seen this kind of international collaboration at any of the institutions where I’ve had the privilege of being on faculty,” Runge said. “Attending this meeting, it’s easy to recognize the value. There’s a potential to improve health when our very best scientists work together.”
This year marked the seventh annual JI Symposium, an auspicious anniversary in Chinese culture, said PUHSC President Qimin Zhan, in part because the word for seven in the Mandarin language is similar to the word for arise.”
“Seven is a good number in China because seven is always up,” he said. “For sure, we would say the last seven years have been very successful and we look forward to another seven years.”
Established in 2010, the Joint Institute (JI) has generated 40 individual research projects in numerous divisions and departments, from well-established programs like cardiology and nephrology, to new projects in substance abuse, emergency medicine, sports medicine and other areas.
Each project is led by partner collaborators – or teams of collaborators – from both institutions, and each is driven by a search for discoveries that could improve health in China and the United States. Shortly after establishing one of the United States’ first Emergency Critical Care Centers (EC3) at Michigan Medicine in 2015, Emergency Medicine leaders turned to the JI and partners at PUHSC for some advice and best practices; in China, unlike in the U.S., critical care services within emergency departments are well established, said Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine Kyle Gunnerson, co-PI on a JI project to create an advanced new risk-adjustment outcomes prediction tool for EC3 patients.
“We’ve learned so much from this Chinese ICU model about how they are taking care of patients in a relatively resource-limited environment. They are able to do that very well,” said Gunnerson, MD. “Part of the reason is that they have strong models for how the physicians and nurses work together. As leaders, we should be taking that perspective back to Ann Arbor.”
To date, JI research teams have been published more than 30 peer reviewed manuscripts with average index factor of 8.5 and attracted $7 million extramural funding. JI leaders this year officially added two new focus areas for future projects: precision health and cancer research.
As the JI branches out into new areas of medicine, leaders are also seeking to broaden the partnership’s financial support as well. Seed funding for projects to date has come through equal investments from both institutions, but a newly formed Joint Institute Leadership & Development Council seeks to attract outside funding, too. The group is co-led by longtime Michigan Medicine supporter and UMHS Victors for Michigan campaign co-chair Richard Rogel and Lana Hu, Founder and CEO of Amcare Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Beijing and a graduate of the U-M Ross School of Business. The group comprises prominent philanthropists as well as health and business leaders, primarily from China.
“When you look where the funding for biomedical research is coming from right now, the surge is in China,” said Joe Kolars, MD, Senior Associate Dean for Education and Global Initiatives and co-Director of the JI. “We’ve constituted a group of individuals who are willing not only to help raise funding for the JI, but also advise us on how we might think about building partnerships within industry and business. As we continue to grow, we’re taking a wide look beyond the National Institutes of Health and NSF China.” (China’s National Science Foundation is the NIH equivalent.)
This year’s Symposium delegation was the largest-ever Michigan Medicine group to visit PUHSC. That followed last year’s event, which saw a record 70 PUHSC delegates visit Ann Arbor. As the number of faculty, divisions and projects involved in the JI climbs, the focus on equal partnerships and mutual benefit remains constant.
“Our goal has always been to bring scientists together for the kind of inquiry and discovery that no one side can do alone – discoveries that can transform the health in China and United States,” Kolars said.
A pediatrician from China is finishing up a yearlong visit to Michigan Medicine to study clinical research techniques alongside UMMS faculty.
Dr. Xuhui Zhong, from Beijing’s Peking University First Hospital, spent all of 2017 working on research with Professor of Pediatrics Debbie Gipson and shadowing in clinic with Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Larysa Wickman.
“I have done some research work at PKU, but I was looking for additional training to improve those skills. Of course, I wanted a training experience in America,” said Zhong, MD. “My goal was to learn how to design and implement studies and do analysis on a clinical research project – the whole process.”
Michigan Medicine’s partnership with PKU’s medical school, a research collaboration called the Joint Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, paved the way for the training; Zhong’s PUHSC mentor, Professor of Pediatric Nephrology Jie Ding, is the co-PI on a Joint Institute Project along with Wickman and UMMS Professor Emeritus Roger Wiggins. Wickman learned of Zhong’s wish to train in the US and connected her with Gipson, whose own research dovetailed with Zhong’s interests.
“We’ve hosted visitors for a few days or sometimes a few weeks, but never for a year. This was a first for us,” said Gipson, MD, MS. “We loved having Xuhui here. It was quite special that PKU released her from her local duties for a whole year, because she is a highly skilled nephrologist. Even though she was here to learn, she was also able to share her skills and unique perspectives with us. We learned a great deal, too.”
Gipson helped Zhong develop a research project leveraging a new multi-site registry of Chinese children diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, a prevalent kidney disease associated with progressive loss of kidney function. The registry is collecting patient data across 28 different clinic sites for future study.
“We worked on establishing an online database for the registry, and I learned a lot about database management – finding errors, improving processes, and protocols for entry,” said Zhong. “The project has come a long way in 10 months. We’re just beginning to work on the analysis. The idea is that we will be able to follow patients to see how they respond to different treatments.”
The project also set the groundwork for future joint research projects, now that the registry and database is up and running.
“Our goals are to build collaborations as well as well as conducting research,” Gipson said. “We have established a partnership which should prosper in the coming years.”
One day each week, Zhong spent time in clinic with Dr. Wickman, learning about pre- and post-procedure treatment of children who’ve undergone kidney transplantation, which is on the rise in China.
“While she’s not participating in the treatment of patients at Michigan, she is very advanced and active in the patient discussion meetings with our team here,” said Wickman. “How things are done at PKU is sometimes very different, so she’s enriched our knowledge even as she is learning things here. We’re learning from one another.”
Zhong, a mother of two young boys, is set to return back home to her family, friends and First Hospital position in December.
“To spend a year away from home, you need to make it a meaningful and valuable experience,” she said. “For me, I learned everything I wanted to learn. Initially, I was a bit nervous because it’s a totally different environment, but everyone has been so generous and willing to help me. They helped me a lot to adapt to the new team soon.”
The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) and the Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC) Joint Institute for Translational and Clinical Research is accepting joint proposals from investigators working collaboratively at both institutions for funding of projects that will demonstrate an effective team approach to discovery and new findings on diseases relative to both countries, and which can be leveraged for extramural funding opportunities. Full RFP is available here.