Newcastle’s renowned stroke team is extending its international reach, with Chinese PhD student Longting Lin (pictured) joining it recently from Harbin Medical University in China.
Colloquially known as Ellen, the 25-year-old is the first to participate in a student exchange program through the University of Newcastle Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research.
Over the next three years she will be refining her skills in CT Perfusion brain imaging analysis as well as a hypothermic (cooling) treatment program that the two centres are evaluating as part of a unique collaboration.
The relationship between HMU, the University and HMRI’s Stroke Research Group, forged in 2008, gives HMU access to world-leading technology and research translation into clinical practice, while Brain and Mental Health researchers broaden their population scope for stroke research from 875,000 in the Hunter New England region to 20 million in the northern province where Harbin is based.
“Stroke is a major issue in China because of the large population. In the northern region, where the temperature gets down to minus-30 degrees, consumption of alcohol and red meat is high and both bring increased risk of stroke,” Ellen said.
“As I learn how to do the procedures, we can compare results and test the effectiveness of the different treatments.”
Traditional medicine is still widely used in China and the challenge for Ellen, upon her return, will be getting the community to embrace Western medicine.
“We use herbs for neuro protection and acupuncture for recovery, and these approaches are well accepted by patients,” she said.
“Chinese people lack knowledge of medical technology so they automatically reject it, and the government doesn’t cover all the costs, which can make it hard to get recruits for research trials.”
Ellen says that brain imaging technology pioneered in the Hunter allows clinicians to classify stroke patients according to severity and develop an appropriate time frame for treatment.
It is also invaluable for measuring two body-cooling technologies – the HMU team is trialling a non-invasive cooling helmet while Newcastle researchers are investigating intravascular technology to cool the blood in the brain.
Both aim to reduce brain damage that occurs following a stroke.
“The window for treatment is normally 4½ hours but with cooling we hope to extend this to six and hopefully to nine hours,” Ellen said. “Some tissue can be saved and it extends the time frame for thrombolysis [clot removal].”
Having chosen neurology as her specialty after completing a four-year university degree and working for four years in a hospital, Ellen is personally enjoying both the cultural and technological shift in her work in the Hunter.
Her English language skills allowed her to serve as translator for Conjoint Professor Chris Levi – a Hunter New England Health neurologist who heads the HMRI Stroke Research Group – and Associate Professor Mark Parsons during their visits to Harbin. She is also adapting well to Newcastle life.
“I learned English at high school and medical terminology is also taught in English,” Ellen said. “Watching American movies helps a lot too,” she added with a smile.
“The project here is very exciting and I’m having a good time with workmates.”
Health and medical researchers at the University of Newcastle work in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI). HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.