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Research advances in China improve health globally

September / October 2015 | Volume 14, Issue 5

Two elderly women in china wearing Asian conical hats seated on the ground, farm fields and mountains in the background
© 1986 Andrea Fisch, courtesy of Photoshare

Two elderly women in China.

by Shana Potash

With its ancient tradition of herbal remedies, combined with its cutting-edge biomedical research enterprise, China offers unique opportunities to advance scientific discoveries and improve health across the globe. China has been a valuable partner with the U.S. in medical research for more than 30 years.

NIH-funded scientists and colleagues at universities and health agencies in China continue to work together to better understand the cause of illnesses; find ways to improve treatments; and prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases. By studying traditional Chinese medicine, scientists have rediscovered valuable therapies, including a botanical that is the best weapon against malaria.

China is the world's most populous country, with 1.4 billion diverse residents spread across a vast and varied terrain. It has more elderly than any other country; different disease patterns, diet and lifestyle; and has experienced rapid economic growth that's impacted health.

Life expectancy in China today is about 75 years, nearly twice what it was only a half century ago. As China's population ages, noncommunicable diseases are becoming more of a concern. And, while the country has experienced economic gains, Chinese people are aging at income levels that are still lower than many industrialized countries. NIH is supporting a large-scale health and retirement survey in China to contribute to the understanding of global aging issues.

Cancer has been the focus of much of NIH's collaboration in China. NIH scientists are studying cancers that are more common there than in the U.S., such as those of the liver, biliary tract, stomach and esophagus. Many of the research endeavors began decades ago with the release of the Atlas of Cancer Mortality in the People's Republic of China, which revealed geographical patterns of cancer. Published in both Chinese and English, the findings were used in China for cancer control and research, and by scientists elsewhere who were studying, for example, how diet and the environment influence health.

More recently, NIH scientists have worked with their Chinese counterparts to recruit participants in large-scale population studies that provide a wealth of health data to interpret. The ongoing Shanghai Women's and Men's Studies have yielded valuable insights into the increased risk some genetic and lifestyle factors pose for causing cancer and other chronic diseases.

Stroke, the leading cause of death in China, is another significant research area. Also, infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, influenza and malaria are the subject of NIH-supported research and training projects to build capacity, which helps prevent the spread of disease within the country and beyond its borders.

More Information

Resources and background information on NIH-supported research in China.

Chinese health and research information and resources from other organizations.

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