New Zealand-China collaboration supports young scientists

The New Zealand-China NCD Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC) has joined forces with the China Scholarship Council (CSC) and three New Zealand Universities to launch a PhD scholarship scheme for Chinese students interested in undertaking research on non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The CSC–NCD CRCC Joint Funding Programme provides for up to 10 scholarships a year for Chinese students to undertake PhD research on NCDs.  Students will be supervised by leading scientists at one of three NZ universities – Auckland University of Technology, the University of Auckland and the University of Otago.

The Memorandum of Understanding between the CSC, NCD CRCC and the three universities is the first of its kind as the CSC usually signs agreements with individual universities.  NCD CRCC Director Jim Mann explains the importance of this initiative:

“There is huge interest from scientists in New Zealand and China in developing research collaborations for the mutual benefit of both countries. But it takes time and a lot of hard work to develop flagship collaborations between leading scientists. While we’re working on this, we can also start growing the next generation of research collaborations. The PhD students who take up this opportunity will become the research leaders of tomorrow and their links with New Zealand will be strong. In time we hope to make this agreement bi-lateral and extend it to exchanges for young scientists.”

Left to right: Cecily Lin (Education NZ), Li Meng, Liu Jinghui (CSC), Jim Mann, Hu Zhang, Jean Cockram (NCD CRCC)

Shanghai and Dunedin share science links

A delegation from the Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai Municipality (STCSM) visited Dunedin in November 2016 as a mark of the vibrant sister-city relationship between the two cities.  A key outcome of the visit was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the STCSM and Enterprise Dunedin to encourage greater scientific cooperation in a number of areas, including non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Whilst in Dunedin, the STCSM delegation held discussions with the New Zealand-China NCD Research Collaboration Centre (NCD CRCC) to explore opportunities to further develop NCD research collaborations.

As a direct result of these discussions, a small team of cardiovascular researchers from the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge is planning to head to Shanghai in January 2017, and plans are also in train for researchers from Brain NZ, the Ageing Well National Science Challenge and the NZ Brain Bank to visit later in the year.  It is hoped that both visits will lead to concrete outcomes.

Shanghai is a vast city with a population more than 5 times greater than that of New Zealand but its special relationship with Dunedin continues to offer advantages to both partners.

Members of the Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai Municipality, Enterprise Dunedin and the New Zealand-China NCD Research Collaboration Centre. Left to right: (back row) Mr Yichong Zhang, Mr Chenhao Li, Prof Mike Eccles, Prof Parry Guilford, Mr Qing Yu, Mr Hui Zhang, A/Prof Ruth Empson, Dr Hu Zhang; (front row) Prof David Baxter, Ms Xin Chen, Prof Jim Mann, Mr Xingfa Ma, Prof Zhuoping Yu, Dr Fernanda da Silva Tatley

China-New Zealand health research centre funded

The health and wellbeing National Science Challenges* will collaborate in a new Centre to enhance linkages between New Zealand and China for research into non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Three Science Challenges will participate – Healthier Lives, Ageing Well and A Better Start – bringing together expertise in NCDs spanning the whole life course, from childhood, through adulthood and into later age.  This collaboration, which currently encompasses more than 219 researchers in 26 institutions, will operate as an inclusive platform for all NCD researchers who are interested in collaboration.

Collaboration welcomed

Healthier Lives Governance Group Chair Dr Jenny McMahon welcomed the announcement as evidence of the way in which National Science Challenges are collaborating for the benefit of New Zealand.  “China, with the world’s largest population, is confronting a rising burden of non-communicable diseases.  The new Centre will provide opportunities for researchers across New Zealand and China to learn from each other about how to combat this growing global health crisis.”

Healthier Lives Director Professor Jim Mann from the University of Otago will head the new centre supported by two Co-Directors, Professor Wayne Cutfield from the University of Auckland (Director of A Better Start) and Professor David Baxter from the University of Otago (Director of Ageing Well).

“As the Centre is established, we expect to be joined by other New Zealand groups who are working in this area to enhance our collaborations with colleagues in China,” says Prof Mann. 

The grant of $1.25M has been made through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Catalyst Fund, which supports activities that initiate, develop and foster collaborations leveraging international science and innovation for New Zealand’s benefit.

Research opportunities prioritised

The Centre’s activities will focus on priority areas relevant to researchers from both countries, including: cancer, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, neuropsychiatric disorders and age-related conditions.  There is also interest in modernisation of traditional medicine, big data approaches, and gene-environment interactions.

Professor Parry Guilford, who will lead the centre’s cancer theme, says the contributing New Zealand researchers had identified that access to China’s large populations and big data was crucial to efforts to progress research into NCD risk, prevention and treatment in this country.

“In return, our collaborators in China will be able to access our public health and ethics expertise, and cutting-edge New Zealand science regarding causes, prevention and treatment of NCDs. This will allow them to develop cost-effective approaches for the rapidly increasing medical burden in China,” Professor Guilford says.

“The Centre will provide a one-stop conduit for information and facilitation for both sides.  Our pathway to building substantive collaborations, in a very large and diverse country, will be building from our existing relationships, introducing new researchers into these, while supporting researchers with aspirations to work with China related to the strategic advantages of Chinese-NZ research collaboration.”

July 2016

*National Science Challenges (NSCs) are a new way of funding science in New Zealand.  Read more about the NSCs here.