“Small countries can do big things.” Professor Mark Lawler, Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics and Dean of Education, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences at Queens’s University Belfast has highlighted how Northern Ireland has shown leadership at both national and European level in controlling cancer, a disease that kills 2.8 million citizens of the Peoples Republic of China each year.
Speaking at the 4th UK China Regional Leaders Summit in the city of Dalian in the Liaoning Province, Professor Lawler highlighted how Northern Ireland and China, though different in scale, had shared healthcare priorities, particularly in the area of cancer. He commented: “Healthy China 2030 aligns with our 70:35 Vision, 70% long term survival for cancer patients by 2035. Through our work with over 60 partners in 25 countries, this 70:35 Vision has now become a priority across Europe.”
Professor Lawler collected The 2018 European Health Award, a prestigious award that recognises collaborative health initiatives with impact, for this pan-European project at the European Health Forum Gastein earlier this month.
Professor Lawler said: “In the mid-90s Northern Ireland had the worst outcomes for all cancers in the United Kingdom (UK), but by developing and implementing a research-enabled National Cancer Control Strategy which put patients at the centre, we were able to significantly reduce mortality for diseases such as breast cancer, such that we now have the best outcomes in the UK.
“We hope that our experience may be of help in controlling cancer in China, where it is the most frequent cause of death. With the ageing population in China, cancer is a ticking time bomb. We need to diffuse that time bomb and ensure better health for our citizens.”
Professor Lawler also highlighted the role of big data in ensuring better health for the citizens of the UK and China. “Gathering data and using that intelligence to inform healthcare research and policy is vital, from a health, economic and societal perspective”. Professor Lawler, also an Associate Director for Health Data Research UK (HDR-UK), and leads HDR Northern Ireland, one of six sites of HDR-UK, highlighted how the UK and China could together be a “powerhouse for data analytics and Artificial Intelligence” and expressed his excitement at looking at opportunities to collaborate in this innovative domain. He outlined ambitious plans for a One Health Innovation Centre, harnessing interdisciplinary excellence within the first Agri-Food and Health Informatics Institute in Europe.
Commenting on his presentation, David Sterling, Head of the Civil Service, who led the delegation said: “Our international reputation in cancer research and data analytics makes us an ideal partner for driving an innovation agenda between Northern Ireland and China that will bring improved health to our citizens and joint ventures that can yield both economic and societal benefit for our two countries”.
“Northern Ireland has significant expertise in these sectors,” said Tim Losty Director of Northern Ireland’s Bureau in China. “Our ambition is to develop focussed strategic collaborations that can be mutually beneficial by harnessing this expertise to deliver impact as a key component of the UK-China partnership going forward.”
Professor Ian Greer, Vice Chancellor and President of Queen’s University Belfast at Queen’s said: “We have a very significant commitment to research and education in China. This is demonstrated by our partnership with China Medical University in Shenyang that is successfully delivering education programmes for Chinese students and promises much more in terms of research collaboration in a number of areas including cancer. Our leadership in cancer research, recognised internationally through the recent 2018 European Health Award and our strengths in data analytics and Artificial Intelligence, provide the opportunity for innovative solutions to be developed in cooperation with our colleagues in China.”