National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
November 17, 2009 • Volume 6 / Number 22

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Community Update

U.S.-China Cancer Research Collaborations to Be Expanded

NCI Director Dr. John E. Niederhuber and Meeting Chair Dr. Qimin Zhan, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences NCI Director Dr. John E. Niederhuber and Meeting Chair Dr. Qimin Zhan, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences

More than 100 cancer experts from the United States and China gathered in Beijing on November 9 and 10 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the 1979 Health Protocol between the two countries and to discuss new opportunities for future scientific cooperation.

Participants, including a number representing NCI, reviewed the history and scientific accomplishments of joint U.S.-China cancer research studies over the past 30 years, summarized the state of the science for several advanced technologies driving personalized cancer medicine, and identified emerging opportunities for future cooperation in areas including molecular epidemiology, genomics, proteomics, and nanotechnology.

Chinese meeting co-chair Professor Qimin Zhan, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, noted, “I look forward to new collaborations. As a result of these discussions at the meeting, we will find new points, some common ground, and common interests for future projects. I’m confident of that.”

NCI Director Dr. John E. Niederhuber, who welcomed the attendees during the opening session, was joined by other NCI leaders and scientists in the wide-ranging discussions.

“There are several unique opportunities to work with Chinese scientists to develop personalized cancer medicine,” said NCI Deputy Director Dr. Anna Barker, the U.S. co-chair of the meeting. “As a key participant in the Human Genome and International Haplotype Map projects, and with major recent achievements in proteomics and nanotechnology, China is poised to be a major player in this field.

“Large numbers of Chinese scientists trained in the United States are returning to leadership positions in China’s biomedical research sector," Dr. Barker noted, including Professor Zhan, who trained for 7 years in NCI laboratories earlier in his scientific career. These interactions have helped to further strengthen the countries’ relationships, facilitating communication and mutual understanding, said Dr. Barker.

At a recent meeting of the National Cancer Advisory Board, Dr. Barker reviewed the background and potential for leveraging the U.S.-China history of successful cancer cooperative research programs. Currently, NCI supports more than 50 China-related projects in areas such as basic research, epidemiology, occupational/environmental health, and tobacco control. She noted that developing research partnerships in China allows access to populations not observed in the United States who were exposed to chemical and/or infectious agents that increase cancer risk, and it provides opportunities to use Western scientific approaches to evaluate traditional Chinese medicine techniques.

In addition, China’s investment in science and technology nearly tripled between 2000 and 2005, to an estimated 1.1 percent of its GDP, and continues to increase. “There is a tremendous opportunity for NCI to expand collaboration during this growth phase,” Dr. Barker commented.

Dr. Zhan agreed, noting that China’s Minister of Health Dr. Zhu Chen, who addressed the meeting’s dinner banquet on November 9, “is very supportive of cancer research and all medical research collaborations between our two countries.”

NCI recently launched a new Office of China Cancer Research Programs in Beijing, which is led by Dr. Julie Schneider. “Over the past year or so, I’ve been laying the groundwork to create this new program,” she commented. “Following the 30th anniversary meeting, we will complete a strategic plan for expanding NCI partnerships in China, which will be an important first step for this new NCI program.”

Dr. Zhan is excited about NCI’s new office in Beijing. “NCI can play a more and more important role in China,” he predicted. “Considering that NCI is in the leading position for cancer research in the United States and in the world, I believe NCI can provide a lot of help to us.”

Additional U.S.-China conferences are being planned, including a symposium on nanobiology and nanomedicine in the spring and a possible workshop next autumn to review the state of cancer treatment clinical trials in China.

—Bill Robinson