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NATMA 2G 參 Taiwan ~~ 2023

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

July 5, 2023 morning

ITRI & NHRI visits

Additional reporting by Dennis Wong, MD and Jeffrey Chen, MD

Yesterday was our last day in Taipei, and we got up nice and early (7:30!) to board our new tour bus to travel south to 新竹 Hsin-Chu, my hometown.

From left: Gerry Sheu, MD, CA urologist, Linda Hou, MD, CA gastroenterologist, Dolly Chiu, MD, GA internist

Our first stop is the 工業技術研究院 Industrial Technology Research Institute, which was founded in 1973 and has famously acted as an important incubator for such Taiwanese luminaries as 台積電 TSMC, 聯華電子 United Microelectronics Corp, and 台灣生一材料 Taiwan Biomaterial. We were welcomed by the accomplished Deputy Director of the Biomedical Tech & Device Research Labs, 沈欣欣 Hsin-Hsin Shen, PhD. Dr Shen told us the current ITRI mission is to establish Taiwan on the global stage as the giant in tech industry that it is. Her lab is comprised of just 370 employees, and a full 30% of whom possess a PhD. The lab focuses its energy on developing new bio- and medical tech such as imaging, informatics, precision diagnostics, regenerative medicine, and traditional herbal medication & drug delivery system (I love the last one - all this high tech stuff, then suddenly, it's like, oh and what your grandma used to give you when you got sick - we'll improve on that also).

Our team listens closely as Deputy Director Dr Shen, left, presents.

Gary Chuang, MD, our team LA dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, asks questions about regenerative medicine; business cards were definitely exchanged after!

What struck us was the intimate collaboration ITRI commands with local and distant medical schools and hospitals in Taiwan - they routinely have students and physicians on site to train and test prototypes. The bridge between research and market is that much shorter. The institute also receives 70% in govt funding (the rest from industry); however, the Taiwanese tech market is still relatively VC young - but that does mean lots of opportunities for those of us stateside who want to invest! There is a huge opportunity here. We have plans to bridge this gap - keep posted!

A slide from Dr Shen's presentation - we were all drinking it in!

Jeffrey Chen, MD, right, pain specialist from UCSD, discusses stem cell therapy in his work, as Peter Hou, MD, a CCM physician from Boston, looks on

We then toured the facilities (in areas that didn't have privileged prototypes!) and our 2G

members were particularly interested in regenerative medicine, including the use of stem cells to print skin tissue. Interestingly, one researcher also has a veterinary background, and has already applied for and received approval for the use of mesenchymal stromal cells in CP and paralysis in animals. The lab jokingly calls him a superhero among cats and dogs, as he showed us video after video of tiny cute pups and kitties walking after devastating accidents. I couldn't help but imagine the huge implications this could have once this therapy receives the green light to be used in humans.

Some of the products on display at ITRI

After an exciting morning, we boarded the bus again and proceeded to 國家衛生研究院 National Health Research Institute, the NIH of Taiwan, in 竹南 Zhu Nan. We were again warmly received in a beautiful conference room - with boxed lunches and name tags! We listened as the Vice President 陳為堅 Wei J. Chen, PhD, walked us through the history of NHRI, and its mission. The NHRI was established in 1988 under a proposal by members of academia, and in 1995 was signed into law by President Lee Teng-Hui. In 1996, it opened its doors and since then, many other branches have opened, including in 台北 Taipei and 台南 Tainan. NHRI's mission is to advance the island nation's tremendous medical research, furthering its impact on society, MedTech industry, and basic science. NHRI also has widespread initiatives in vaccine development, new drug development, international medical and scientific research collaboration (including USA, Canada, Europe, Vietnam, India, Japan, just to name a few), and works closely with GMP (Good Medical Practice) under the Taiwanese FDA's direction. The NHRI also currently has multiple ongoing clinical trials in Dengue fever, HTN, DM2, preventive medicine, and population genomics, to name a few.

Dr David Yang, NATMA president, left and Dr Chen discuss the importance of US-Taiwan NATMA collaboration

After the lunch conference, Dr Chen was hospitable enough to walk us to the bus, and I happened to walk next to him. He asked about my specialty (remembering that I'm from NYC), and when he found out I'm a pediatrician, said, ah, yes - in Taiwan our pediatric hospitals and departments are basically charity work. I was a bit surprised by this statement (what Dr Chen describes is absolutely the case in the US - most non-medical/pediatric people don't know this - but pretty much all pediatric services in large hospital systems in the US lose money, because the reimbursement rates are so low), since it seems like Taiwan is much more keen on services for its children than the US. I suppose the Taiwanese pediatricians must also fight for the same exact things we do for our kids in the US. #solidarity

Group photo at NHRI! If we didn't take a photo, did it even happen?!

With such a busy morning, we had an even busier afternoon. Visiting two medical schools, one of which my father attended in the 1960s. We boarded the bus again to continue our journey southward.

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