BRAINS ON HIS MIND

A US doc­tor joins his Chi­nese peers to push for Parkin­son’s break­throughs.

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS -

In the past decade, 72-year-old Amer­i­can neu­ro­phys­i­ol­o­gist Mark Hal­lett has flown reg­u­larly to China to work with his Chi­nese coun­ter­parts to ex­pand and im­prove treat­ments of move­ment disorders and Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

His most re­cent visit was high­lighted by a Beijing cer­e­mony at which he re­ceived the Friend­ship Award. The honor is the high­est pre­sented by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to for­eign­ers who have made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to China’s so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“It’s a mar­velous honor for me. It makes me feel good about be­ing able to do what I have done with Chi­nese doc­tors in the past years,” says Hal­lett, wear­ing a spe­cial tie with a typ­i­cal Chi­nese de­sign for the oc­ca­sion.

Hal­lett, whose fa­ther was an oph­thal­mol­o­gist, be­came in­ter­ested in med­i­cal science when he was a child. He later re­ceived his de­gree from the Har­vard Med­i­cal School.

Hav­ing pub­lished more than 1,000 aca­demic ar­ti­cles and more than 30 books on re­lated top­ics, Hal­lett is one of the best-rec­og­nized sci­en­tists re­search­ing neu­ro­phys­i­o­logic dis­ease.

He has been the di­rec­tor of the neu­rol­ogy depart­ment of the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Neu­ro­log­i­cal Disorders and Stroke, a sub­or­di­nate of the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health in the United States. He is also chair­man of the In­ter­na­tional Clin­i­cal Neu­ro­phys­i­ol­ogy So­ci­ety.

Hal­lett made his first visit to China in the late 1990s as a mem­ber of an ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram car­ried out in Shang­hai by the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Neu­rol­ogy.

As many Chi­nese re­searchers and doc­tors have re­ceived ad­vanced train­ing at the NIH, Hal­lett main­tained con­tact with some of them af­ter they re­turned to China.

The con­nec­tions led to his later col­lab­o­ra­tion with Xuanwu Hos­pi­tal of the Cap­i­tal Med­i­cal Univer­sity in Beijing, af­ter Zhuang Ping, one of his ear­li­est fel­lows, be­came a doc­tor there.

In 2004, Zhuang in­vited Hal­lett to work with her hos­pi­tal as a for­eign med­i­cal ex­pert. Their col­lab­o­ra­tion has grown steadily, and Hal­lett vis­its China an­nu­ally for week­long aca­demic ex­changes, med­i­cal teach­ing and sci­en­tific re­search.

“His pro­fes­sional and metic­u­lous at­ti­tude as well as skill­ful­ness while check­ing the pa­tients opened our eyes. He really pro­vides a world-class ref­er­ence for us to im­prove our­selves,” says Zhuang.

Hal­lett says he is im­pressed by the huge num­ber of pa­tients Chi­nese hos­pi­tals have to take in, which is a big chal­lenge for Chi­nese doc­tors.

How­ever, it’s a huge ad­van­tage for re­search, he adds.

“The vol­ume of cases and qual­ity of data here makes it pos­si­ble to get un­usual types of pa­tients,” he ex­plains.

Hal­lett has worked with doc­tors in the hos­pi­tal to col­lect data on Parkin­son’s dis­ease based on surg­eries. The data can help doc­tors understand why the op­er­a­tion worked and how to im­prove it, Hal­lett ex­plains.

Hal­lett’s worked has been an im­por­tant sup­port for pop­u­lar­iza­tion of the deep-brain stim­u­la­tion treat­ment for Parkin­son’s dis­ease in China in the past decade. Stud­ies have shown DBS can help the brain main­tain con­nec­tions so it can re­trieve mem­o­ries.

Hal­lett says DBS can help main­tain the ben­e­fit of medicine for a longer time and re­duce pa­tients’ in­vol­un­tary move­ments caused by the dis­ease.

Pre­vi­ously, DBS was mainly car­ried out in a few Western coun­tries be­cause the man­age­ment re­quired af­ter surgery is dif­fi­cult. Now China has the largest num­ber of cases of DBS treat­ment in the world.

Ac­cord­ing to Hal­lett, a higher per­cent­age of China’s big pop­u­la­tion is likely to have Parkin­son’s dis­ease be­cause the av­er­age age of Chi­nese peo­ple is in­creas­ing rapidly, and risks for the dis­ease in­crease with age.

“It’s hard to find an ul­ti­mate so­lu­tion for all the types of Parkin­son’s dis­ease. But it is very ur­gent to find bet­ter ways of treat­ment,” says Hal­lett.

In ad­di­tion to his long-term part­ner­ship with Xuanwu, Hal­lett col­lab­o­rates with more than 10 other Chi­nese hos­pi­tals, pur­su­ing the use of new ther­a­pies, new tech­nolo­gies and the study of dif­fer­ent kinds of move­ment disorders.

He has also helped the Chi­nese hos­pi­tals or­ga­nize in­ter­na­tional aca­demic meet­ings, which bring fa­mous in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tists to China to share the lat­est re­search, ad­vances and treat­ments of Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Mark Hal­lett (right) has worked with Chi­nese hos­pi­tals and doc­tors to re­search Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

Mark Hal­lett and his Chi­nese col­leagues check a pa­tient’s med­i­cal records in Xuanwu Hos­pi­tal of the Cap­i­tal Med­i­cal Univer­sity in Beijing.

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