Partnership unites high-profile scholars at UBC and the Chinese Academy of Sciences

Dr. Dermot Kelleher and Dr. Yaping Zhang sign a memorandum of understanding at UBC on June 14, 2019.

Pictured: Dr. Dermot Kelleher (front, left) and Dr. Jianping Fan (front, right) sign a memorandum of understanding at DMCBH on June 13, 2019. Image credit: Paul Joseph/UBC.

Last week, Dr. Dermot Kelleher, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia, signed an agreement formalizing an academic partnership with the Shenzen Institutes of Advanced Technology (SIAT). The agreement, which connects those members of the Royal Society of Canada primarily located in the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health (DMCBH) with members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Shenzen, represents a commitment to scientific diplomacy and an effort to solve some of the biggest challenges in brain research together.

The agreement was modeled on a 2006 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and National Science Foundation of China-funded process of ‘twinning’ top health research labs in China and Canada. This highly productive initiative created 135 joint research programs and at the time was the most successful of China’s many international research partnerships.

“The backbone of scientific progress in the twenty-first century will be international collaboration,” said Dr. Anthony Phillips, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Founding Director of the UBC Institute of Mental Health. “Nearly half of all scientific papers published by Canadian researchers now have international co-authors; we can make great progress by forming privileged relationships with outstanding scientists regardless of national borders.”

The DMCBH-SIAT partnership aims to employ complementary research skills and knowledge from well-established research teams at both institutions in order to improve our understanding and ability to treat and prevent some of the greatest challenges to brain health, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, addiction and the opioid crisis, brain injury and stroke, and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism.

Principal investigators involved with the collaboration include Dr. Phillips, as well as Drs Terrance Snutch, Weihong Song, Ann Marie Craig, Brian MacVicar, and Yu Tian Wang.

“We’re thrilled that already, within the early stages of this partnership, there are a number of new initiatives underway,” said Dr. Snutch, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Director of Translational Neuroscience at DMCBH. “At a time of diminishing funds for biomedical research in Canada, the availability of funding within the SIAT-CAS system will permit research to continue that might otherwise be significantly delayed.”

Research programs at DMCBH and at the Brain Cognition and Brain Disease Institute at SIAT share a similar focus, and this new partnership aims to usher in the future of neuroscience research; SIAT will offer training fellowships for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to acquire immersive training in novel research techniques being developed at the Shenzen campus.

“We look forward to a productive and engaging partnership with SIAT,” said Dr. Phillips. “The UBC participants will visit the SIAT-CAS facilities in October 2019 to plan, design and initiate specific research projects, and we eagerly anticipate hosting a symposium at UBC to showcase the collaborative research projects that will constitute this unique collaboration."