UBC, Hong Kong form education partnership

The medical schools of the University of British Columbia and the University of Hong Kong and their affiliated teaching hospitals have announced a major new research and education partnership.

The two medical schools will collaborate on an extensive program of research and education in diseases of the heart and brain, the greatest causes of death and disability in advanced societies on both sides of the Pacific.

The collaboration, to be known as the Pacific Education and Research Liaison in Cardiovascular Research and Neuroscience (PEARL), was recently announced in Vancouver by UBC Dean of Medicine Dr. John Cairns and HKU Dean of Medicine Prof. S.P. Chow. The agreement was announced in Hong Kong in April.

PEARL is the most comprehensive collaboration entered into by either school and sets the stage for highly productive new research initiatives between the two Pacific Rim centres of expertise. The teaching hospitals involved include St. Mary's in Hong Kong, Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre, B.C.'s Children's Hospital and St. Paul's Hospital.

"The partnerships will build on the common ties of business and family between Vancouver and Hong Kong," Cairns said. "PEARL will be supported by an active and ongoing exchange of people -- scientists, students and practising specialists -- as well as by high-speed electronic and telecommunications links. It promises both universities and their affiliated teaching hospitals an opportunity for research, cultural and economic growth."

Signed on the eve of Hong Kong's historic transition from British governance to Chinese rule, both partners see this collaboration as a vote of confidence in a strong future for Hong Kong as a part of the People's Republic of China, and in a strong and fruitful relationship between Vancouver, Hong Kong and China, he added.

The neuroscience collaboration will help in the search for new therapies for neurological disease and disorders, many of which are increasing as the population ages. These include stroke, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Studies will also examine traumatic injuries to the brain and spinal cord, as well as genetic and molecular bases of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

A high-speed bilateral communication link will enable scientists to operate as an institute without walls, and researchers on both sides of the Pacific will have access to the same gene and brain-mapping facilities.

The cardiovascular collaboration will investigate blood vessel and heart muscle diseases. Such diseases, particularly atherosclerotic disease, are the leading cause of death in Canada and increasing rapidly in Hong Kong's Chinese population.

For example, PEARL will provide the ability to study atherosclerotic disease in Hong Kong -- where cholesterol counts have almost reached U.S. levels -- and compare it to first-generation immigrants and subsequent generations of Vancouver's Chinese population.

This offers an opportunity to compare the roles environmental factors may play in this disease. The results can also be compared to Vancouver's Caucasian population.

Education will also play a key role in PEARL. Joint training of undergraduates, postgraduates and post doctoral fellows will be offered, as will exchanges. Short, intensive courses on specialty topics will be jointly taught by faculty members. Exchange of expertise in hospital-based care will also be possible.

Another important component of PEARL is community outreach. Plans include public seminars and newsletters to assist the public in disease prevention and control.