PKU Pediatrician spends one year at Michigan Medicine for research training

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.”