Decade of discovery

Posted on Monday, September 21, 2015

Chunli Bai

By Mike Foster

The 10-year collaboration between the University of Ottawa and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has led to many discoveries in women’s health, reproductive biology, proteomics, molecular photonics and fish biology.

The decade of collaboration was celebrated today with a special convocation ceremony to award CAS president Chunli Bai an honorary doctorate from the University of Ottawa.

The event was also an opportunity to deepen the ties between CAS and the University through four new partnership agreements that support collaborations in areas such as science policy, fish biology, systems biology as well as increasing doctoral student exchanges between the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) and the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (FGPS).

Here’s just a taste of a few amazing reasons why the collaboration is pushing boundaries:

Women’s health

What began in 2005 with a research collaboration in reproductive health between uOttawa professor Ben Tsang and his CAS counterpart professor Duan Enkui, director of the State Key Laboratory of Reproductive Biology, has blossomed into a range of productive partnerships. This includes research into polycystic ovarian syndrome – a major cause of infertility among women of reproductive age – and chemo-resistance in ovarian cancer.

Using proteins to decipher diseases

Daniel Figeys, uOttawa professor and Canada Research Chair in Proteomics and Systems Biology, has helped to establish two joint laboratories with the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physicals (DICP) and the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica (SIMM), which are under the CAS umbrella.

Working with fellow scientists at the DICP, he gained access to processes to purify proteins and technologies that measure the levels of proteins in biological samples. He and his Chinese counterparts have published nearly 20 joint research papers in the field of systems biology and proteomics.

“These technologies are being applied to projects here at uOttawa. Over the last few years, those technologies were applied to look at what is going on in the brain during circadian cycles – how your body clock works. They have been applied to look at changes in the brain during Alzheimer’s and, more recently, for looking at inflammatory bowel disease in children,” says Figeys.

Observing chemical reactions in real time

Professor Albert Stolow, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Photonics, has worked with scientists at the DICP, as part of his research focus on femtosecond time-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy.

“With these femtosecond lasers we can make flashes of light that are so short we can actually strobe molecules as they are undergoing chemical reactions,” says Stolow.

In 2009, he published a joint paper on the topic with a colleague, Guorong Wu, who had done his PhD under the supervision of DICP professor Xueming Yang, in the journal Science, the world’s top scientific journal, on Time-resolved molecular frame dynamics of Fixed in Space CS2.

In the future, the research could lead to even more powerful computers and a better understanding of the dynamics behind photosynthesis and vision.

Understanding fish biology to feed millions

uOttawa biology professor Vance Trudeau and professor Wei Hu, at the CAS-supported Institute of Hydrobiology (IHB) in Wuhan, China, are studying the hormones that control fish reproduction and growth in order to improve the production of fish for food. Since 2011, the partners have been involved in the study of secretoneurin, a novel brain hormone which they believe is essential for reproduction. The aim of the collaboration is to better control fish production and produce some fish that grow faster but do not reproduce at all, to prevent them from mixing with wild fish.

Trust and contacts leads to joint school of medicine

Contacts made during academic exchanges and meetings between scientists ultimately built up trust over time, leading to the Ottawa-Shanghai Joint School of Medicine (OSJSM), a unique partnership between the University of Ottawa and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Since 2011, the Faculty has worked with the Shanghai school on research, medical education and, more recently, residency training in family medicine, pediatric research and education, and the humanities in medicine.

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