Still going, growing strong: Joint Institute celebrates 7 years with Beijing symposium
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 U-M 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, M.D., Michigan Medicine CEO and medical school dean., and Carol Bradford, M.D., executive vice dean for academic affairs. The annual meeting alternates each year between Ann Arbor and Beijing, and this marked 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 U.S. Shortly after establishing one of the U.S.’ 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, M.D., 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. “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 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, M.D., 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.