Fred Hutchinson center to collaborate with Chinese agency on cancer research (and more)

November 9, 2010

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has signed a formal agreement with China's version of the CDC. One goal is to carry out research on large datasets, with the aim of finding new cancer biomarkers.

The incoming head of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) and the director of China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have signed an agreement that will give the US researchers access to China's massive dataset of health information, in exchange for access to state-of-the-art technology and skills available in the US.

China offers a "unique worldwide resource" for cancer research, said FHCRC's new director Larry Corey, MD, at the October 28 signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two institutions. (Corey is replacing director Lee Hartwell, PhD, who is retiring.) China has whole hospitals devoted to gastrointestinal and lung cancers, Corey said, as well as an "unprecedented real-time repository" of health information that can track disease patterns across the entire country. Access to this data will allow genomic and proteinomic studies that can be expected to reveal new biomarkers for the development of cancer or response to therapy, he added.

The cancer research is the second phase of a longstanding joint venture that began in 2002 with a third institution, the University of Washington (UW). The first phase, research toward detection and prevention of emerging and infectious diseases, is well underway. It began when UW virologist Tuofu Zhu, MD, PhD, began collaborating with Chinese researchers on studies of HIV.

More recently, UW and FHCRC scientists have worked with Chinese counterparts on efforts to control hand, foot, and mouth disease, which is epidemic in various parts of the Far East, including China. (There were about 1.4 million cases in China last year, according to the Chinese CDC's director, Yu Wang. Many of them were very young children.)

Increasing contact between researchers in the China and Seattle led to increasing appeals for a more formal relationship to ease logistics, said UW's Zhu. Recognizing that "solutions to the most complex diseases [are] beyond any one country or institution, the leaders of the three institutions to launch the UW/FHCRC China Health Initiative in 2007. The new signed agreement firms up financial and practical details.

Zhu says that the China CDC is "very special and powerful," something like a combination of the US CDC and NIH, but more broadly distributed. It has about 3400 local branches across China, allowing organized collection of regional as well as national data. The US researchers will now have access to all of that it.

This is an "important collaboration," but it's not entirely unique, observes Derek Raghavan, MD, PhD, director of Cleveland Clinic's Taussig Cancer Institute. For instance, the University of Wisconsin developed an outreach in Taipei many years ago, he points out, and Johns Hopkins has established a strong presence in Singapore.

"I could probably see more benefit if the US and China CDCs linked," he added. "But at least Hutch is getting the ball rolling."