YSPH Welcomes Chinese Scientists, Colleagues

The Yale School of Public Health welcomed a group of Chinese researchers this week who are in the forefront of their country’s fight against a host of diseases associated with air and water pollution and China’s rapid industrialization.

The visiting Chinese scientists are funded by grants from the Fogarty International Center that YSPH administers. The collaborative research projects, underway at different locations throughout China, include the study of health risks faced by coal miners, prenatal exposure to certain toxins and subsequent health status, air pollution exposure and birth outcomes and a birth cohort study.

While China has created one of the world’s most powerful economies within the past few decades, progress has come with serious pollution and public health problems, said Tongzhang Zheng, the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology at Yale. Pollution issues are pronounced in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, but the countryside has not been spared. In many cases, pollution exceeds levels set by the World Health Organization.

“[The Chinese] people are starting to say ‘return my environment, return my clean air,’” Zhang said during Tuesday’s conference at the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Public Health. 

The Fogarty program funds the training of a new generation of Chinese scientists with public health specialties such as cancer epidemiology, biostatistics and molecular genetics. The program also helps to build research programs for these scientists to apply their new skills.

Several Chinese scientists provided updates on their work and the conference allowed then and their Yale colleagues to brainstorm on ways that studies could be fine-tuned and how research problems might be addressed.

One researcher, Dr. Min Dai of the China National Cancer Center, started her presentation by thanking Yale and the School of Public Health for all they have done to help China tackle some of its emerging public health threats.

“We have gotten a lot of support from Yale University,” she said. Dai is studying the link between exposure to coal mine dust and cancer in a cohort that includes some 150,000 people. Coal mining is a major industry in China.

Another researcher, Dr. Yana Bai of Lanzhou University, is studying one of the world’s largest nickel mines in the city of Jingchang and how this industry affects the health of some 50,000 workers. She is seeking to understand whether nickel exposure leads to different forms of cancer as well as circulatory and respiratory diseases.

Dean Paul Cleary noted that the Fogarty research partnership is just the latest project in a long relationship between Yale and China that goes back to the early 19th century. The public health research now underway between YSPH and Chinese scientists is exciting and timely and has the potential to benefit both countries. “We have a great deal to learn from each other,” he said.

The Yale School of Public Health currently administers 11 Fogarty International Center research-training grants, including several in China. Other grants fund projects in Colombia, Brazil, Russia and Kenya and the United States.

After giving presentations at the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Public Health on their research, the Chinese scientists departed for the National Institutes of Health, which sponsors the Fogarty program, in Washington, D.C.

This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on January 16, 2014.

Dr. Min Dai of the China National Cancer Center outlines her study oon the link between exposure to coal mine dust and cancer in a cohort that includes some 150,000 people. Theodore Holford, the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Public Health (Biostatistics) at YSPH, is in the background.