UofL pediatric scientists partner with Chinese research institutions


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics has signed agreements with three Chinese universities that will generate approximately $1 million of research support over three years, create new partners for other UofL pediatric researchers and foster new academic opportunities for trainees.

    “We have a unique opportunity to partner our pediatric research programs with rapidly expanding basic and translational research programs in China,” said Brad Keller, M.D., vice chair for Pediatric Research and Kosair Charities Chair for Pediatric Heart Research. Keller traveled last fall with Lu Cai, M.D., Ph.D., , who heads up the department’s research institute, to meet with researchers and administrative leadership at Wenzhou Medical University, Jiangxi Provincial Children’s Hospital and Jilin University to launch the formal collaborative relationships.

    “These agreements substantially expand collaborative pediatric clinical and research programs, facilitate the exchange of research trainees, and create opportunities for new global health rotations and telehealth programs,” said Pediatrics chairman Gerard Rabalais, M.D., MHA. Rabalais joined Cai and a delegation of UofL pediatric faculty on a recent trip to China to execute the completed agreements.

    More than 20 Chinese trainees and scientists have worked in Cai’s basic science diabetes research lab over the past several years. These collaborations have significantly increased UofL Department of Pediatrics’ scientific research activity, publications and funded grant proposals. For example, in May 2014, the collaborative teams published articles in three high profile journals: The American Journal of Physiology &#8211. Endocrinology and Metabolism, the Diabetes Journal and the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology.

    “Through the performance of the mutually interesting projects by students, the research capacity and diversity in my lab has been significantly strengthened,” said Cai, who directs Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health grants derived from these collaborative projects.

    KCHRI’s current research is focused in three major areas: diabetes, sleep and respiratory neurobiology, and tumor biology and cellular therapies. KCHRI researchers are actively pursuing research into the causes and complications of diabetes, focusing primarily on diabetes’ effect on the kidney and heart.

    With these new agreements, researchers from the three institutions will begin collaborating with the rest of the UofL delegation — Janice Sullivan, M.D., director of the Kosair Charities Pediatric Clinical Research Unit (KCPCRU), Kupper Wintergerst, M.D., the Wendy L. Novak Endowed Chair of Pediatric Diabetes Care and Clinical Research, and Brad Keller, M.D., Kosair Charities Pediatric Heart Research Program in the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute — as well as other Department of Pediatrics faculty.

    The KCPCRU conducts inpatient and outpatient pediatric clinical pharmacology, device and quality improvement studies and works with about one-third of the UofL pediatric faculty conducting research.

    Utilizing the expertise of the KCPCRU, the KCHRI, and the Wendy L. Novak Diabetes Care Center clinical research team, Wintergerst conducts a variety of translational and clinical research trials, ranging from the study of new therapies for diabetes care and complications to diabetes prevention and cure.

    Over the next three years, up to five senior physicians from each Chinese institution will come as visiting faculty to UofL for up to six months. In addition, as many as 15 junior clinician-investigators or basic scientists from each institution will spend one – two years working with UofL researchers in their clinical research facilities or laboratories during the three year period.

    Funding, including stipend, mentorship and laboratory expense for each visiting researcher, will be paid by the sponsoring institutions in China.

    “Research is a critical part of the UofL Department of Pediatrics’ mission but finding dollars to support our research mission has become increasingly challenging. We must find new partners and pursue nontraditional approaches to funding in order to maintain and expand our research enterprise,” Rabalais said. “Dr. Cai’s resourcefulness has enabled him to pursue his own research and has greatly benefitted our department and our university.”