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Around the World to Build Research and Business Relations with UTHSC


Pictured left to right: Drs. Thomason, Towbin, Goodman, Cormier, Yates, and Gu

In February, a UTHSC delegation led by Vice Chancellor for Research Steven Goodman visited Chengdu in the PR of China. The delegation included Dean Don Thomason, Associate VCRs Stephania Cormier and Gabor Tigyi, Assistant VCR Weikuan Gu, Professor of Pharmacy Ryan Yates, and Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at UTHSC and St. Jude Chair of Pediatric Cardiology at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital Jeffrey Towbin.

You might ask what took us around the world to get to their destination as it is stipulated in the title? In fact, we indeed flew around the world but not by choice but due to bad weather and flight cancellations that diverted the trip from flying from San Francisco directly to Chengdu. Instead, we were re-routed via Frankfurt, Germany and from there to the destination in China in a mere 55-hour-long trip.

The second questions that might pop up in your mind is: What did we do in Chengdu to promote UTHSC? The first purpose of the trip was to finalize a Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Exchange Agreement between UTHSC and West China School of Medicine and West China Hospital of Sichuan University (WCSM/WCH). This medical school in Chengdu serves a population of 14 million people with hospital beds numbering in excess of 5,700. With the ex- change agreement soon in place, our students and fellows will have an opportunity to receive training in a unique subtropical medical center that receives over 5 million outpatient visits and performs 135,780 surgeries annually, slightly more than what they can see at UTHSC Hospitals. The hospital, later medical school, was founded by Dr. O.L. Kilborn by merging Cunren and Renji Hospitals in 1892 through the joint efforts of missionary organizations from the United States, Britain, and Canada. No doubt that spending time and training at WCSM/WCH will add a different dimension to the medical and research training of our students.

The second purpose of our trip was to establish research ties and cooperation with companies in the High-Tech Zone of Chengdu. The annual growth rate of the economy in this region was 10.2% with 238 Fortune 500 companies contributing to the GDP $145.524 billion in 2013. The delegation visited Innolife Ltd. (www.innolife.com.cn), a biopharmaceutical company focused on regeneration of ischemia-induced organ failure through the reactivation of tissue injury/repair signaling system and mobilization of the body’s inherent self-repair capability. Their lead product is designed to promote the regeneration of heart muscle after myocardial infarction. Innolife is near receiving FDA approval to launch clinical trials in the USA. They are the ideal partner/customer for the recently launched Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee (CTN2) that can provide patients with narrowly specified diagnostic and demographic parameters for clinical trials. Another company that has an interest in setting up its U.S. operations center is Revotek (www.revotek.com.cn). The name says it all; they developed a revolutionary technology in 3D bioprinting of artificial blood vessels. The technology includes a cloud-based CT/MRI angiographic imaging of the patient’s vessel that needs replacement. This custom design is then fed into the 3D bioprinting robot that will print multiple layers of Biosynspheres that contain mesenchymal stem cells isolated from five grams of the patient’s abdominal fat. The bioprinted vessel is then surgically implanted by removing the occluded segment of the patient’s artery. After a few weeks, the implant develops the normal anatomic layers of the blood vessel they replace. Revotek is looking for a research, and eventually a manufacturing site, in the US to further develop the technology and begin clinical trials. UTHSC and Memphis have unique things to offer to Revotek through the Plough Center and FedEx as a provider of pharmaceutical products and biomedical logistics.

In mid-April, the Chinese delegation reciprocated our visit to tour our facilities and meet with top management from UTHSC, FedEx, Medtronic, Memphis Bioworks, and Innova Venture Capital. Our four-day visit to Chengdu has opened up new vistas for a global collaboration in education and business relations.

-Gabor Tigyi, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Industry Relations