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January 25, 2011

Comer, Chinese hospital begin exchange

Study abroad isn’t just for college students anymore.

The Comer Children’s Hospital signed an agreement in October with the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center (SCMC) that gives Chicago medical residents the chance to study health policy in China as part of a student exchange program. Under this new program, Comer and SCMC will collaborate on research publications.

For several months, while U of C residents are in China, SCMC graduate students, residents, and eventually medical students will be at Comer to learn about the latest research and bring state-of -the-art medical techniques back to Shanghai.

Comparing Comer and the SCMC by size, the marriage of the two seems unexpected. In the pediatric section of Comer, doctors see about 90,000 patients a year – SCMC sees 1.1 million.

But administrators say that the differences add to the exchange program. “They have access to patients with rare diseases because of the larger base,” Comer Director Jeffrey Finesilver said. “For research, the rare disease is a rich resource for both teaching and resources, and we now have access to that.”

“Residents from Comer will gain a sense of scale,” said Donald C. Liu, a Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at Comer. “They will learn from amazing doctors who have been depending on pure clinical skills and not technology only.”

According to Finesilver, the partnership reaches deeper than the student exchange and will involve working together in identifying rare and varying diseases amongst different gene pools. “The plan is that we will jointly apply for research grants together, so we’ll be doing research with them, but they’ll have different genetic material, and we’ll see if they have different results based on the different gene pool,” said Finesilver.

Shortly after the University of Chicago opened its new Center in Beijing this past September, the new partnership emerged between Comer and the SCMC. In late October, Comer led a delegation to Shanghai and signed the agreement for student, resident, and faculty exchange, as well as quarterly online conferences to discuss especially difficult diseases.

The partnership is attributable to a decade-long relationship between the two hospitals. In 2000, Liu traveled to SCMC to teach minimally invasive surgery on babies with gastroschisis—a condition where babies are born with their intestines outside of their body. Liu helped the surgeons at SCMC reduce the mortality rate of these babies to lower than three percent from rates as high as 80 percent.

After this trip to Shanghai, Liu started recruiting one or two fellows from the SCMC to work with him at Comer each year. “This exchange became an educational program. We published a lot of papers together,” he said.

With the exchange between the two countries starting as early as this spring, no time will be wasted in beginning research. “The importance from the University of Chicago to think of China as a major center for education and research provided us with additional impetus to formalize the agreement,” said John Cunningham, a professor of pediatrics, physiology, and stem cell research at Comer Hospital.

The student exchange is part of the University’s Global Health Initiative, which works with communities locally and internationally to improve education and health care on a global scale.

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