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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

A Two-Way Street to China

The flight from Chicago to Shanghai takes 14 hours to cover more than 7,000 miles. But the distance between the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital and Shanghai Children's Medical Center will soon feel much smaller, thanks to a new partnership signed in October by hospital leaders.

Formalizing an exchange of educational resources, research expertise, and clinical experience, the agreement is the product of a five-day visit to Shanghai by Comer Children's faculty and leadership. With several opportunities for students and faculty to spend time visiting the hospitals in Chicago or Shanghai, collaborate on research projects, or share unusual cases via telemedicine, the partnership brings two world-class institutions closer together.

"These are two institutions that clearly are motivated by very similar goals: To provide outstanding care to patients, to develop new therapies, and to provide outstanding education," said David Gozal, Herbert T. Abelson Professor of Pediatrics. "That's what we both want to do."

The seeds of the new partnership were planted ten years ago, when Shanghai Children's Medical Center, the largest pediatric hospital in China's most populous city, began sending surgical fellows to learn minimally invasive techniques from Donald Liu, the former Mary Campau Ryerson Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at Comer Children's. Fellows learned modern techniques for the treatment of diseases such as gastroschisis, where babies are born with their bowels outside of their body. Within 10 years of the training program with Liu, SCMC surgeons had increased the survival rate of babies born in their hospital with gastroschisis from 30 percent to 95 percent.

As part of the new agreement, SCMC will continue to send junior faculty and pediatric residents for clinical observerships at Comer Children's. In addition, two residents enrolled in the Global Health Program in Pediatrics at Comer Children's will do a two-month clinical rotation in Shanghai each year, gaining valuable experience in a different context for performing medicine.

In addition to clinical training, an expanded focus of the partnership will be to assist with the establishment of a translational research program in Shanghai. Two junior faculty and two graduate students from SCMC will come to the Department of Pediatrics to do laboratory work and develop joint research venues on research topics such as neuroblastoma, stem cell transplantation, sleep medicine, and genetics. Meanwhile, researchers in the Department of Pediatrics will collaborate with researchers in Shanghai on specific projects and data-mining research efforts afforded by the enormous patient pool at SCMC, which sees more than 1 million patients a year.

With access to the larger patient population at SCMC, physicians at the University of Chicago will be better able to study complex disease. In fact, those rare diseases will be the subject of telemedicine exchanges, where clinicians at each hospital can discuss unusual cases with each other via video conferencing -- the first such international partnership for Comer Children's. But whether virtual or face-to-face, the new opportunities for interaction will benefit both institutions, and bridge the long distance between Chicago and Shanghai.

"We're doing something that hopefully will be advantageous for both programs for education and research," Gozal said. "It's a win-win for both programs, and the basis of what we believe will be a long and fruitful friendship among two outstanding institutions in two very different parts of the world."

October 2010