The Chinese Consulate in Christchurch visit NCD CRCC

A delegation from the Chinese Consulate in Christchurch visited Dunedin in September 2022. Consulate General Madame He Ying and her team (Consul Liao Hongyan, Consul Xu Li, Vice Consul Li Muqing) met with Director Professor Sir Jim Mann and Research Collaboration Manager Dr Hu Zhang of the New Zealand–China Non-Communicable Diseases Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC).

Director Jim Mann gave an overview of the NCD CRCC’s activities over the past six years and the Centre’s plans for the coming years. Consulate General Madame He Ying was impressed with the Centre’s achievements and offered the Consulate’s continuous support.

Consulate General Madame He Ying invited the NCD CRCC to visit Christchurch later in September to celebrate the 73rd Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China in Christchurch, which the NCD CRCC gratefully accepted.

The 3rd NZ-China Non-Communicable Diseases Research Cooperation Forum deemed major success

Established links were strengthened at the 3rd NZ-China Non-Communicable Diseases Research Cooperation Forum, with calls made to increase forum frequency and expand the number of research teams invited to hear the world-class presentations from Aotearoa and Chinese researchers.

Congratulations flowed in to the organisers after the 5-6 July 2022 forum, with participants agreeing it was the most exciting forum yet. The event’s main objective was to identify priority joint research programmes. Some 70 researchers took part, with 35 speakers from both countries.

This year’s focus was on New Zealand’s health-related National Science Challenges (NSCs): A Better Start, Healthier Lives and Ageing Well. Each ‘Challenge’ had its own e-discussion ‘room’ in which presentations from Chinese and New Zealand researchers highlighted NCDs of major concern or interest to both nations. These include childhood obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular, cancer, Traditional Medicine (TCM) and Brain Science. Themes around big data, mental health and wellness promotion wove through many of the presentations.

The keynote speakers were University of Otago Public Health Professor Michael Baker a member of the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 Technical Advisory Group, and Professor Yu Wang – the former director general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and current president of the Chinese Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control. Both spoke about the COVID-19 era and how if you have an NCD such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity or high blood pressure, you have a higher risk of getting a severe COVID-19 infection, with the risks increasing with every subsequent COVID-19 infection./p>

The forum was hosted by the New Zealand–China Non-Communicable Diseases Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC) whose Director, Professor Sir Jim Mann, was also co-chair of the forum’s Healthier Lives room. He says, “Our biggest area of discussion was the epidemic of diabetes in NZ and China. We saw a lot of slides and statistics that were just mind-blowing. I hope a number of collaborations will be extended and new ones begun, especially regarding diabetes, where we haven’t had any collaboration so far, and in reduction of NCDs through lifestyle change.”

Chair of the ‘A Better Start’ room, Professor Wayne Cutfield, said the greatest opportunities in child health and wellbeing were in mental health apps to assist in the management of mental health problems before they became mental health disorders. He also acknowledged how every person in the forum had been hugely disrupted by COVID-19 issues beyond anyone’s control. International collaborative research stalled, with everyone stuck in their countries.

Professor Cutfield says, “Hopefully that will change. What was very clear in this forum was the world class quality of the presentations. Given the quality of the science, we should expand the forum to include more researchers and research teams in future forums.”

The ‘A Better Start’ room discussion reflected all the others in that it featured new areas of discussion, in this case it was childhood obesity. The head of the University of Otago’s Department of Medicine and Director of the Edgar Centre for Diabetes and Obesity Research, Professor Rachael Taylor, spoking about ‘Improving healthy weight in children: where to from here?’. This was echoed by vice president of the Children’s Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Professor Jun-Fen Fu, in her presentation on ‘Obesity and diabetes in children’.

The Chair of the Ageing Well room was Professor David Baxter, Co-Director of Ageing Well. Prof Baxter opened the Forum with an overview about what ageing looks like in Aotearoa New Zealand and how an organisation like Ageing Well helps all Kiwis to age well.

“Ageing is a universal process, yet people experience it differently all over the world. It was helpful to be able to come together and discuss the latest in innovative research. The forum provided a great opportunity for researchers in New Zealand and China to learn about each other’s research and find ways in which we can collaborate,” said Professor Baxter.

Co-Chair of the Ageing Well room, Xuanwu Hospital Capital Medical University Professor Biau Chen, agreed and said the forum underlined how both countries faced similar issues around ageing.

Professor Chen gave examples of the new technologies he uses, such as a virtual hospital to manage Parkinson’s patients so different doctors from different institutions can confer. He also described a project screening the elderly for dementia-related cognitive deficit, using technology to intervene early and help them live better. Another research project uses digital technologies to help people with motor dysfunction and neurological issues through monitoring, assessment and prevention.

He said presentations about Chinese projects like these were reciprocated, using the example of Auckland University of Technology Associate Professor, Rita Krishnamurthi, who told the Ageing Well room about using wellness coaching for chronic diseases such as stroke, and the benefits this can provide.

Co-Chair of the Brain Science group, University of Otago, Professor Tim Anderson reported that many of the group members have existing collaborations and are old friends whose work together was disrupted by COVID-19.

Professor Anderson says, “The forum re-established those connections. Our room’s presentations ranged from single brain cell studies to large human cohorts. We talked about Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and healthy ageing. Huashan Hospital’s Professor Jian Wang informed us about AI digital monitoring. This type of research is in its early stages in NZ, but great strides are being made in China. This is clearly a potential source of collaboration.”

University of Otago School of Pharmacy Senior Lecturer, Dr Allan Gamble, was co-Chair of a Cancer/Diabetes/TCM room. He says, “This was a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded scientists. We identified a lot of potential collaborations and refreshed on-going collaborations such as that between myself and Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Professor Bo Han. The attendees had good discussions about how to use diet to prevent or reduce the advance of type 2 diabetes. Now, it’s important to look for and act upon funding opportunities to visit each other and further enhance collaboration.”

Issues that hamper collaboration such as difficulties in scheduling regular meetings and transportation of research samples were also discussed.

During the opening ceremony, both the Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Science and Technology, China (MoST) Deputy Director General, Jie Xu, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Science and Innovation Counsellor China, Clinton Watson, said that while New Zealand and China may have different perspectives on some issues, there is plenty of opportunity build on already strong ties of collaboration in areas such as science and innovation.

Professor Mann adds, “Clearly, some of the established forum links are operating well, most obviously with Traditional Chinese Medicine and our agreement with Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (CDU TCM).”

In 2023 a cohort of international students who have already completed one and a half years of study at CDU TCM, China, will come to Dunedin for years two and three of Otago’s School of Pharmacy Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science degree.

The NCD CRCC is an initiative of the New Zealand Government to coordinate and maximise collaboration opportunities with China across the priority themes of non-communicable diseases.

The NCD CRCC thanked the contribution of Mr Watson, Mr Jie Xu and The People’s Republic of China New Zealand Embassy Minister Counsellor, Genhua Wang, for their invaluable support and help in the forum’s organisation.(Previous forums took place in 2019 and 2021.)

For details about the forum programme and speaker biographies see:

For more information contact:

Fia Jephson Sandstrom


Mutual public health concerns fuel enthusiasm for joint China NZ research

New evidence that people who have had COVID-19 have a 40% greater risk of developing diabetes compared with those who have not had COVID-19 was presented among dozens of potential research areas and confirmed collaborations discussed at a “strikingly” successful e-forum between top flight New Zealand and Chinese researchers.

At the third China-New Zealand Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) Research Cooperation Forum on 5-6 July, some 70 online attendees discussed mutual areas of research, such as diabetes, child obesity, cardiovascular illness, cancer, brain science and modernising traditional medicine.

Discussion about the diabetes epidemic in NZ (260-270,000 people) and China (140 million) included the new evidence of how COVID-19 raised the risk of developing diabetes.

The COVID-19 era and its impact on people with NCDs was also the topic of both keynote speakers, University of Otago Public Health Professor Michael Baker, and Professor Yu Wang – the former director general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and current president of the Chinese Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control.

Between them, they made clear that if you have an NCD such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity or high blood pressure, you have a higher risk of getting a severe COVID-19 infection. With each COVID-19 reinfection the risk increases. As older people are more likely to have an NCD, they are more at risk of COVID-19-related death, especially when the infection coincides with an overloaded public health system.

The forum’s main objective was to identify possible future research collaborations in priority areas and report on existing collaborative research, says University of Otago Professor Jim Mann, the Director of the New Zealand-China NCD Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC).

Professor Mann says, “The pause caused by COVID-19 has only made the appetite for working internationally with like-minded colleagues all the stronger. Strikingly so.”

Potential for collaboration around promotion of healthy lifestyle and diet to prevent NCDs such as diabetes and heart disease also caused excitement. For example, University of Otago Medical School’s Dr Andrew Reynolds’s presentation included salt reduction and the lifestyle management of NCDs. This immediately led to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s to call for the wheels to be set in motion for sharing salt reduction strategies.

Dr Reynolds says, “Salt intake is the biggest predictor of high blood pressure, which is then the biggest predictor for stroke. Here in New Zealand we eat around twice as much salt as recommended, mainly from packaged foods, while in China they consume three times as much as recommended, so it is a very relevant topic to both countries. This forum provided an initial “hello” moment between like-minded researchers.”

Border openings have reignited an agreement made just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic for a cohort of international students from Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine, China, to Otago. These students will be able to complete one and a half years of study in their own country, and then years two and three in Otago’s School of Pharmacy Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science degree programme

Dunedin City Council’s Enterprise Dunedin Director, John Christie says, “The 2023 cohort will be among the first international students to return to Otago, with associated economic benefits for the city as the students spend time here.”

MBIE further support the NCD CRCC

The New Zealand–China Non-Communicable Diseases Collaborative Research Centre (NCD CRCC) is a partnership of the three health and wellbeing National Science Challenges – A Better Start, Healthier Lives and Ageing Well.

The NCD CRCC was formed in 2016, over the last four years NCD CRCC has worked to establish meaningful relationships between leading NCD researchers in New Zealand and China and aim to build long term and enduring connections with researchers who are working on similar problems. NCD CRCC has arranged for many NZ delegations to visit China and visits to New Zealand by groups of Chinese scientists on a number of occasions. These activities have led to the signing of 10 MoU’s with prominent research establishments in China so the centre is now in a position to initiate and support collaborative research.

MBIE recently announced that the NCD CRCC will receive an additional funding of $1.6M to support joint research projects over four years. The NCD CRCC has identified three areas of joint research which the centre believes to be most likely to generate meaningful outcomes in the short-term as well as long-term collaborations which will lead to improved health outcomes among the citizens of both countries. The three areas are cancer research, modernisation of traditional medicine and brain research and five projects will receive funding.

Cancer researcher Professor Parry Guilford from the University of Otago is working on “The Early Detection and Improved Diagnosis of Diffuse Gastric Cancer” and to simplify new methods to diagnose the cancer. Prof Guilford is collaborating with the Department of General Surgery of the Fifth People’s Hospital of Shanghai, Fudan University, China.

A team from the School of Pharmacy, University of Otago (Professor Sarah Hook, Associate Professor Arlene McDowell, Dr Allan Gamble and Dr Shyamal Das) are working on “Modernisation of traditional medicine” and are collaborating with researchers from the School of Pharmacy at Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, China. The project will develop improved bioactivates and formulations with increased activity and reduced toxicity using cutting-edge techniques.

Brain research have three projects;

1) University of Auckland’s Professor Russell Snell’s project is “The cellular basis of Huntington’s disease” and he is collaborating with Associate Professor Linya You at Fudan University, China.

2) Professor Tim Anderson, University of Otago in Christchurch is collaborating with Professor Jian Wang, Fudan University, Huashan Hospital, China. Their work is on “Artificial intelligence motion capture for evaluation and diagnosis in Parkinson’s disease”.

3) Professor Ping Liu, University of Otago collaborates with researchers at the Shanghai Mental Health Centre, University of Science and Technology and Anhui Medical University, China. The project focuses on “Biomarker identification and validation for Alzheimer’s disease and clinical high-risk syndrome of psychosis – a metabolomics approach”.

For more information please contact the NCD CRCC,

Forum strengthens NZ-China non communicable diseases (NCDs) research collaborations

An impressive range of joint research projects between Chinese and New Zealand cancer, brain and modernisation of traditional medicine scientists may receive further support from the New Zealand-China Non-Communicable Diseases Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC).

Last week the second China-New Zealand Non-Communicable Diseases Research Cooperation Forum brought researchers together for enthusiastic discussions about existing and potential areas of collaborative research. The e-forum was hosted out of Beijing by the China National Centre for Biotechnology Development and by the Dunedin-based NCD CRCC, with many delegates joining virtually from Beijing, Shanghai, Wellington and other Chinese and New Zealand cities.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) allocated the NCD CRCC $1.6million over three years to support a collaborative research programme that was initiated at the first forum in 2019 in Queenstown, plus $500,000 to maintain the centre’s activities. The forum’s introductory address from China’s Deputy Director General, Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), Jie Xu, indicated similarly strong support from the Chinese government.

The forum began with a formal opening ceremony with more than 50 attendees including representatives from both MBIE and MoST, plus attendees from the NZ Consulate General in Shanghai, Chinese Embassy in Wellington and Dunedin City Council’s (DCC) Enterprise Dunedin. This year’s focus was on the three priority research areas – brain science, cancer and modernisation of traditional Chinese medicine.

NCD CRCC Director Professor Jim Mann says, “The range and sheer number of possible collaborations discussed over a short space of time was impressive.
“Our first forum in Queenstown in 2019 gathered researchers together for what was very much a ‘getting to know you phase’, finding out the range of NCD and traditional medicines research areas that academics in China and New Zealand could collaborate on. This second forum cements those ties and really gets the ball rolling with active, shared research.”

Brian Research New Zealand Co-Director Professor Cliff Abraham says, “It’s clear that, like our own researchers, the speakers from China are very high performers at an international level – we are dealing with excellence. At the science level, these collaborations are only win-win. Research can go further and faster by harnessing each other’s resources. In New Zealand the resource of people with biomarkers of mental health or neurodegenerative disorders is limited, in China its huge.”

The NCD CRCC has benefitted enormously from the long standing and close sister city relationship between Dunedin and Shanghai over the years.
DCC Enterprise Dunedin Director, John Christie, says the forum and the connections the NCD CRCC have made with China are, “… practical evidence of the value of this partnership. Beyond the usual civic and cultural activities, real work has emerged. It has grown from various formal Memorandums of Understanding that provided initial political approval and backing. Now, as this forum shows, the opportunities have spread from just being between Shanghai and Dunedin, to work with other universities in other cities in both countries.”

The two-day forum concluded with reports from each group where existing collaborative relationships were strengthened and new connections emerged.

Expanded MoU and meeting between the China Scholarship Council and the NCD CRCC

In December 2019, the China Scholarship Council’s (CSC) Secretary-General Mr Sheng Jianxue and his team Ms Meng Li, Deputy Director, Division of American and Oceanian Affairs and Mr Liu Binxin, Project officer, Division of American and Oceanian Affairs visited Dunedin to meet with NZ-China NCD Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC) to discuss the CSC–NZ CRCC Joint Funding Programme.

This comes after an expanded Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the CSC, NCD CRCC, the NZ-China Food Protection Network, the NZ-China Water Research Centre, University of Otago, University of Auckland, Auckland University of Technology, Lincoln University and Massey University.

This MOU is wider than that previously signed with the CSC as it involves additional parties and also cover exchanges for up to 15 PhD students/ visiting students and up to 15 visiting scholars and/or postdoctoral fellows a year, that are interested in undertaking research on non-communicable diseases (NCDs). 

The CSC–NZ CRCC Joint Funding Programme include living costs, international airfares, visa application fee and health insurance from the CSC. Other benefits include waived tuition fee and the same opportunities to apply for research support as other doctoral candidates at the NZ universities, as well as additional support (e.g. seed funding and/or travel support) from the NCD CRCC to undertake activities that develop research collaboration between China and NZ.

During the meeting, both sides discussed their experience with the joint funding programme and agreed that the programme will mainly focus on priority research areas of NCDs with a special selection procedure for New Zealand candidates in place at the CSC.

From left: Dr Hu Zhang, Research Collaboration Manager, NCD CRCC; Mr Zhai Jianjun, Education Consul, Chinese Consulate, Christchurch; Mr Liu Binxin, Project officer, Division of American and Oceanian Affairs; Ms Meng Li, Deputy Director, Division of American and Oceanian Affairs; Mr Zhixue Dong, Education Counsellor, Chinese Embassy, Wellington; Mr Sheng Jianxue, Secretary-General, CSC; Prof Parry Guilford, Deputy Director, Healthier Lives, National Science Challenge; Mr John Christie, Director, Enterprise Dunedin; A/Prof Arlene McDowell, School of Pharmacy, University of Otago; Prof Debra Waters, Co-Director NCD CRCC and Director, Ageing Well, National Science Challenge; Prof Cliff Abraham, Co-Director, Brain Research New Zealand and Prof Rachel Spronken-Smith, Dean, Graduate Research School, University of Otago and Mr Hongbo Ren, Science and Technology Counsellor, Chinese Embassy, Wellington (not in the picture) attended this meeting.
Mr Sheng Jianxue, Secretary-General, China Scholarship Council and Prof Parry Guilford, Deputy Director, Healthier Lives, National Science Challenge

MOU signed between NCD CRCC and China National Center for Biotechnology Development

The New Zealand – China Non-Communicable Diseases Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the China National Center for Biotechnology Development (CNCBD) in December 2019.

The CNCBD was established in China in 1983 under the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST). It is the sole national centre to coordinate and implement the national Science and Technology program in Health and Biotechnology in China. The NCD CRCC was founded in 2016 by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) in line with the agreement between the governments of the People’s Republic of China and New Zealand on scientific and technological cooperation.

During the past three years, both the NCD CRCC and the CNCBD have worked closely together to establish meaningful relationships between leading NCD researchers in New Zealand and China. In addition to various annual visits by the Directors of both centres, several visits were organised for NZ delegations to visit China and Chinese scientists to visit New Zealand.

The first of a planned series of New Zealand-China NCD Research Collaboration Forums co-organised by NCD CRCC and CNCBD was successfully held in Queenstown in late August 2019, where 20 delegates from China, 40 scientists from New Zealand, and government agencies from both countries were present. The two parties continue to arrange international meetings and are now planning the second NCD Forum to be held in China in 2020.

This MOU will foster closer collaboration and strengthen the exchanges between the NCD CRCC and the CNCBD. Both parties continue to explore cooperation in various forms, including co-organising annual international forums on non-communicable diseases and providing recommendations for joint research projects.

Shanghai government granted funding to New Zealand – Shanghai joint research

Shanghai Science and Technology Commission (SSTC) recently granted a joint research project between the University of Otago and Shanghai Mental Health Centre. Associate Professor Ping Liu will work with her Shanghai counterparts on biomarker identification and validation for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and clinical high-risk syndrome of psychosis.

Associate Professor Ping Liu’s research group at the University of Otago has been working on the mechanisms, biomarkers and intervention of neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders (such as AD, frontotemporal dementia, schizophrenia and major depression) using post-mortem human brain tissue, human biofluids and various animal models. L-arginine is a versatile amino acid with a number of bioactive metabolites. Recent research (including Associate Professor Liu’s) has implicated the alterations of arginine metabolism in the pathogeneses of AD and schizophrenia, and indicated the potential of using blood biomarkers centered on arginine metabolism for clinical diagnosis and prognosis of both diseases.

This joint research was facilitated by various initiatives of the New Zealand–China Non-Communicable Diseases Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC), which together with Brain Research New Zealand (BRNZ), organised a number of reciprocal NZ-China visits and signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Shanghai Huashan Hospital, the Fudan University School of Public Health and Shanghai Mental Health Centre. In 2018, Huashan Hospital hosted a BRNZ delegation for a joint two-day symposium on neurological and psychiatric disorders. This symposium created opportunities for the two research teams to carry on joint research work.

This project initiates the collaborations between the two countries in the areas of research in AD and psychosis and offers a great opportunity for large scale clinical biomarker research. Major findings from this study may have significant impacts on early detection, diagnosis, prognosis and/or intervention of AD and schizophrenia.

This is the second SSTC funded joint research project between the University of Otago and its partners in Shanghai. The first one was funded in 2017, a gout related research by Professor Tony Merriam and researchers from Shanghai Jiaotong University.

Prof Ping Liu, University of Otago and Prof Jijun Wang from Shanghai Mental Health Centre

University of Otago working with China scholars to modernise traditional medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine’s (TCM) potential to produce new pro-drugs targeting diseases such as cancer is being given a boost in one of several collaborations between University of Otago Pharmacy School researchers and their counterparts in China.

Pro-drugs are inactive when administered, but when they encounter the disease/target site they are triggered into activity. Otago School of Pharmacy’s Dr Allan Gamble, whose laboratory mainly focusses on targeted delivery of cancer drugs, says he initially spoke with Professor Bo Han of the Chengdu University of TCM’s School of Pharmacy during the First New Zealand-China Non-Communicable Disease Research Cooperation Forum in Queenstown in September about ideas their laboratories could work on together.

“Han’s team has identified some drug-like compounds from TCM. We want to see if we can take some of the compounds that his group has synthesised and make pro-drugs to target specific diseases.
“My lab is interested in improving the delivery of drugs to cancer cells. A big part of that is pro-drug development and finding triggers for activating pro-drugs. Also, with some of the compounds, Han’s team don’t know what the target is and, in my lab, we can try to find that out. To initiate the collaborative effort, a PhD student from Professor Bo’s research group will visit my lab for a year from December so we can synthesise a series of prodrugs targeting cancer cells and generate some useful biological data.

“The facilities in China are second to none and their researchers are first class. Collaborating with them will lead to further ideas and opportunities for funding in the hope that we find something with clinical potential.”
An Otago School of Pharmacy delegation to China in late October returned having confirmed further collaboration with colleagues from Chengdu University of TCM’s School of Pharmacy who also attended the Forum in September. The delegation included the Dean, Professor Marra, Professor Sarah Hook and Associate Professors Natalie Medlicott and Arlene McDowell.

Associate Professor McDowell says, “At the Forum, we established a genuine mutual desire to work together and identified many areas of potential research collaboration. In China, we began to refine the ideas down to specifics.
“The possibilities are for individual researchers to travel between our two countries to work together. We can also establish teaching exchanges, and postgraduate and undergraduate student exchanges. The Chinese academics really value that we are a well-reputed, research-intensive university with stringent ethics, in an English-speaking country.

“In Chengdu, I continued a discussion begun at the forum with Associate Professor Jinming Zhang around our common research interest in nanomedicines to delivery TCMs more efficiently. I agreed to host a Chengdu research student in my lab at Otago to look at designing a nanomedicine from plant extracts with antioxidant activity using a smart polymer system they have developed.
“The Chinese have a huge knowledge of plants and their uses, and the scale they can do things on is phenomenal, e.g. getting lots of people to do quality trials is so much easier. They also have all the commercial production facilities, so if we have a product that can safely be put to market, it can be produced pretty quickly.”

While in China, Associate Professor McDowell and Professor Hook, also spoke at the sixth International Conference on the Modernization of Traditional Chinese Medicine Conference in Chengdu.

Chengdu University of TCM PhD students Xiang and Elodie with Dean Prof. Carlo Marra, Prof. Sarah Hook and Deputy Dean Associate Prof. Natalie Medlicott. Photo by A. McDowell

New Zealand and Chinese health scientists keen to further research cooperation

Over 60 New Zealand and Chinese health scientists gathered in Queenstown on 30 August – 1 September 2019 to advance their collaborative work studying the brain and illnesses such as stroke, Parkinson’s and dementia, and to explore potential collaborations for modernising traditional medicines.

The forum was hosted by the New Zealand – China Non-Communicable Disease Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC), with support from the China National Centre for Biotechnology Development, Brain Research New Zealand (BRNZ), the University of Otago School of Pharmacy.

NCD CRCC Director, University of Otago Professor Jim Mann says, “Our Centre has established close ties with researchers in China. For instance, we have signed a number of Memorandums of Understanding with Shanghai institutions over the past three years that has led to generous funding from the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission to research Alzheimer’s disease and psychosis, and gout in collaboration with Chinese scientists. We’re facilitating this symposium to help grow NZ-China research relationships in the areas of brain research and in the study of traditional medicine. “We’re building on a growing relationship of trust between the science communities of both our countries, for the long-term health benefits of people in New Zealand, China and world-wide.”

BRNZ Co-Director, University of Otago’s Professor Cliff Abraham says, “Researching brain disease is a long-term project. The more we engage with other international experts to address major issues, the faster we can get results for New Zealand and the rest of the world. We can’t do it all ourselves. “We have already had initial conversations with China, planting the seeds. Now, we are moving towards developing relationships and projects. The end goal, disease treatments, may take a long time. The brain research discussion focussed on Parkinson’s, stroke, Alzheimer’s – all diseases that are difficult to address, but not insurmountable.”

Existing collaborative relationships were strengthened at the forum, such as that between Professor Jian Wang of Huashan Hospital, Fudan University, Shanghai, who is a Deputy Director of the Department of Neurology, and Professor Tim Anderson, Clinical Director of the New Zealand Brain Research Institute and Otago School of Medicine neurologist.
Professor Wang says, “We began our collaboration one year ago. From Tim’s side, he is researching the field of eye movement detection and analysis in Parkinson’s disease patients, seeing how to make better diagnoses. I bring the technology of AI, artificial intelligence. We motion capture the motor function tests of patients with Parkinson’s. I work with the company, Tencent, which also produces the Chinese social media platform, WeChat. The aim is that the Tencent people can help us quantify the motor task dysfunction of Parkinson’s patients.”

Professor Mann says China is beginning to see the disease effects of ageing and changing lifestyles, e.g. dementia, stroke, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, which New Zealand has experienced for some time. The work of world-class New Zealand researchers in these areas, plus New Zealand laboratories use of English, the western scientific method, and ethics guidelines contribute to China’s interest in health research cooperation with New Zealand, along with long-term, high-level political and trade ties between the two countries.

The forum consisted of two discussion groups, one focusing on brain research and the other on modernisation of traditional medicine.

University of Otago School of Pharmacy Associate Professor Arlene McDowell, says, “Both China and New Zealand have seen long-term use of traditional medicines in human and animal health. As a group, our research is looking at innovative ways to make medicines more efficient. We are using cutting-edge science to do this. In China’s case, traditional medicine encompasses acupuncture, therapeutic massage and herbal medicines. At this forum, we’re learning about each other’s research areas and this will help us identify links we can develop. “The talks at this forum have emphasised our shared knowledge, for example, in using compounds from plants in medicines, and it has underlined how engaged and committed we are regarding the collaboration.”

China’s Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine Associate Dean Professor Pei Jin says, “Chengdu University is famous for its work in natural product research. We focus on researching herbs, their chemicals and pharmacology, designing medicines for the market, but we want to improve our outcomes. We have begun a collaboration with New Zealand and found that the plants in our countries have common characteristics. “In October this year, University of Otago researchers will be coming to visit us, and we will discuss establishing undergraduate and postgraduate exchanges and research. Our emphasis is on education and research, especially in the area of chronic diseases. Co-operation with New Zealand researchers has a good future.”