National awards underscore city's emergence as global technology hub

China's 2018 State Science and Technology Awards honored a host of Shanghai medical breakthroughs, science education projects and technological innovation. 

Shanghai’s ambition to turn itself into a global center of technological innovation has been given renewed impetus by the performance of city researchers in the 2018 State Science and Technology Awards.

City scientists scooped up nearly a sixth of the national awards.

Forty-seven projects involving local scientists were among the 285 scientific breakthroughs honored. Shanghai scientists were project leaders in 29 of the award winners, according to the city’s science and technology award management office.

The honors included three awards in natural sciences, seven in technological invention and 37 in science and technological progress.

The city has been a big winner of the awards for 17 years.

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Fang Jingyuan and other researchers discovered that a common bacterium — fusobacterium nucleatum — is a factor in the recurrence of colon cancer.

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Xia Qiang performs liver transplant surgery.

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Doctors at Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital perform surgery on a patient with an eye tumor.

Clinical medicine

Local scientists picked up 10 of 12 awards in the category of internal medicine and surgery, with projects related to cancer treatment, pediatric liver transplants and other difficult procedures.

Specialists from Renji Hospital discovered that a common bacterium — fusobacterium nucleatum — is a factor in the recurrence of colon cancer.

“Why do some patients recover well and others suffer relapses after receiving surgery and chemotherapy?” asked chief researcher Fang Jingyuan. “We found fusobacterium nucleatum was to blame. Previously, we had thought it caused only periodontal diseases, but we also found high levels of it in in the intestinal cavity of patients suffering relapses.”

The discovery opens up new prospects in colon cancer treatment.

“What if we eliminate this bacterium from the intestinal cavity?” said Fang. “Will it ensure a full recovery? We are now studying that.”

Xia Qiang, vice president of Renji Hospital, and his team are pioneers in pediatric liver transplants.

“We don’t have livers small enough to be directly transplanted into young children,” he said. “We have to cut part of the liver from adult donors to give them to young recipients.”

Perhaps the team’s biggest challenge to date was a liver transplant for a newborn baby weighing just 3 kilograms.

“The baby’s blood vessels were so small and thin that we had to rely on advanced scanning technologies to make sure the split liver was precisely linked to the blood vessels,” he said.

Between October 2006 and the end of 2017, the hospital performed more than 1,000 pediatric liver transplants. Since 2011, the annual number ranked No.1 in the world.

During that period, the five-year survival rate from the surgery has been raised from 60 percent to 79 percent, almost equaling that of the US.

“Currently, about 80 percent of the specialists in pediatric liver transplants around the world are in China,” Xia said.

His team has tutored doctors from both home and abroad — doctors from Malaysia will visit Shanghai this year to study the procedures used by his team. However, Xia said more medical personnel are needed.

“It requires an additional 10 years of training for a doctor to be fully capable of doing pediatric liver transplant surgeries,” he said. “Each surgery takes an average eight to 10 hours. Our hospital only has six such specialists, and we perform more than 400 surgeries a year.”

At Shanghai No. 9 People’s Hospital, doctors have altered treatment for patients with eye tumors.

Instead of the traditional plan of chemotherapy first, surgery second, “we reversed the sequence to raise the survival rate,” Jia Renbing from the hospital research team said.

Under the procedure, doctors inject medicine directly into the eyeballs of patients.

“It allows the medicines to directly impact the eyes, which helps to retain the eyeball and eyesight while posing no side-effects to other body parts,” Jia said.

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A documentary featuring endangered animal species unique to China made by the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.

Science education

Two Shanghai projects in the national awards address the realm of spreading scientific knowledge to the public at large.

The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum was awarded for its series of documentary films about endangered animal species unique to China.

Since 2009, museum experts have turned out 14 episodes, covering species such as the Chinese giant salamander, the Yangtze alligator and the golden monkey.

“Everything we film is real and intended to promote science education,” said Wang Xiaoming, director of the museum.

The content is designed to be provocative, not boring.

“Only by interpreting scientific knowledge in an artistic way can we attract people,” Wang said. “Science needs to connect with culture. Like two sides of the same coin.”

These documentaries spur interest by reducing science knowledge to a grassroots level of understanding. For example, one compares the Chinese giant salamander, the world’s largest amphibian, to the Chinese principles of tai chi.

The documentaries have been aired on the Discovery Channel and local channels in Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India, Malaysia and other countries.

Under Wang’s plan, the series will stretch to 100 episodes, and cultural products related to the documentaries are under consideration.

“After all, science education has to be combined with commerce so as to expand its influence,” Wang said.

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China’s first comic books that instruct the public on safety precautions and escape measures in 15 disaster scenarios, including mudslides, earthquakes and fire.

Another Shanghai winner in the education category was a project at Shanghai East Hospital, which has produced China’s first comic books that instruct the public on safety precautions and escape measures in 15 disaster scenarios, including mudslides, earthquakes and fire.

“In China, we lack disaster relief professionals,” said hospital director Liu Zhongmin. “In some cases, doctors find themselves becoming victims at disaster scenes. The Chinese public lacks disaster-relief awareness and education. That’s why we suffer such great losses in disasters, much more than in the US and Japan.”

He added, “When disasters occur, it’s you, your family and your neighbors who really matter. We want to call attention to this by turning professional advice into engaging, readable books.”

Commercializing research

About a fifth of the 173 science and technology progress awards that honor project innovation and projects of significant economic benefit went to local scientists.

The Second Military Medical University was cited for popularizing traditional Chinese medicine, especially Shexiang Baoxin Wan, a pill that protects the heart.

The sesame-sized pills, developed from ancient traditional recipes, contain musk aroma, ginseng and other ingredients.

Annual sales increased from 40 million yuan (US$5.8 million) in 2004 to 1.9 billion yuan in 2017. The pills are taken by 1.5 billion people and dispensed in 25,000 hospitals across the country.

Another popular traditional Chinese medicine is the patent drug Danning Pian, which contains rhubarb, knotweed and other herbs. It is widely used in the treatment of gallbladder diseases.

In 2016, Danning Pian was exported to Canada, making it the first fully recognized traditional Chinese medicine patent drug in a Western country.

“It was categorized as a natural drug in Canada,” said chief researcher Zhang Weidong. “All of its ingredients were confirmed as safe, and Canada health officials didn’t change a single word in the use instructions.”

Separately, a research team led by Professor Ma Zifeng at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, studied the chemical reactions in the production of lithium iron phosphate batteries. Its findings have been widely used by Chinese electric car makers, such as BYD.

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