University of Calgary

Joint Liver Institute officially opens

UToday HomeDecember 19, 2012

By Kathryn Sloniowski

Dr. Ning Li, president of YouAn Hospital, Beijing (left) and Dr. Sam Lee, Calgary head of the Joint Liver Institute and professor in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Medicine (right).  Photo by Riley BrandtDr. Ning Li, president of YouAn Hospital, Beijing (left) and Dr. Sam Lee, Calgary head of the Joint Liver Institute and professor in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Medicine (right). Photo by Riley BrandtAccording to the Canadian Liver Foundation, there are more than 100 types of liver disease that can affect men, women and children. The Joint Liver Institute — a unique partnership of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine and Capital Medical University (CMU) in Beijing, China — hopes to reduce this burden. Officially opened in Calgary on Dec. 10, the institute aims to advance research and patient care for those affected by liver disease in both countries.

“This partnership has created formal collaborative links with one of the leading research centres in China,” says Dr. Sam Lee who is the Calgary Head of the Joint Liver Institute, a member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases and a professor in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Medicine.

“The partnership with CMU around the Liver Institute is a great example of how two institutions can build synergy around a strategic area of research in ways that advance science and produce mutual benefits to the institutions involved,” says Benedikt Hallgrimsson, deputy provost of the University of Calgary.

The creation of the institute has led to opportunities for shared research and training exchanges since officially opening in China in June 2011: Lee and several colleagues travelled to CMU in December 2011 to teach a four-day course focusing on clinical research and writing papers in English, and three CMU students are currently in Calgary working on MSc projects with supervisors in the Faculty of Medicine.

Faculty of Medicine trainees and faculty are welcome to travel to CMU as well. Although nobody from the Faculty of Medicine has gone to China for training as of yet, Lee says China has a lot of experience in liver research — especially in areas such as liver cell cancer and hepatitis B — and we have a lot to learn from them.

In addition to training exchanges, the institute is working on creating joint bio-bank access. Bio-banks house large numbers of biological samples necessary for research, allowing for faster access to necessary data and access by multiple researchers, subsequently creating opportunities for research collaboration. CMU currently houses a large bio-bank with several thousand samples, and while the bio-bank in Calgary has just been started, there could be opportunities for shared access in the future.

“The combined expertise of the researchers involved, the combined resources of both groups, and the involvement of students at both institutions is a great recipe for productive research collaboration that I anticipate will lead to advances in the treatment of liver disease,” says Hallgrimsson. “In several ways, this collaboration is also an example of the University of Calgary's new direction in internationalization.”

The Joint Liver Institute specifically joins the University of Calgary Liver Unit (UCLU) with YouAn Hospital, located at Capital Medical University (CMU) — one of the largest hospitals in China dedicated to the care of those with liver disease.