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Wednesday, August 19, 2015, 17:14

TCM research - a collaboration between HK, Sydney


TCM research - a collaboration between HK, Sydney
Associate Professor Simon Poon and Dr Josiah Poon from the University of Sydney (Photo provided to China Daily)

Health information technology experts at the University of Sydney will establish a Joint Big-Data Laboratory for Integrative Medicine with the Hong Kong Institute of Integrative Medicine, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. They recently signed a Letter of Undertaking (LOU) for the collaboration.

The two parties have agreed to contribute equally of technology support and knowledge to the captioned laboratory. After this establishment, the Joint Lab will apply for other funding such as Information and Technology Fund from Innovation Technology Commission of Hong Kong Government for HK$10 million (about AU$1.6 million).

Associate Professor Simon Poon and Dr Josiah Poon from the University of Sydney have been investigating the complexities of Chinese medicine, its philosophy and the impact of the society in which big-data analytics can be used as a myth buster of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

"There is not a lot of scientific evidence there. From the research point of view, the methodology that we have for Chinese traditional medicine is rather weak compared to western medicine," Associate Professor Poon said in an interview at the ICCMR 2015 conference held in South Korea.

"It opens up an area for researchers where they are not just looking at the evidence, or identifying the solution but also studying methodological advancements."

A laboratory for big data research in integrative medicine with a focus on data linkage, analytics, and clinically driven evidence research will be set up as part of the LOU. And a core team will be built for international exchange and training of clinicians and engineers with interests in IT advancement and modernization of integrative medicine.

The IT experts are open-minded about the data as evidence and agree that Chinese traditional medicine is an "unusual discipline to link with IT".

They will investigate the layers of TCM such as genetics and fingerprinting the herbs to the prescription.

At the moment they're examining why post-stroke patients in Hong Kong are led to the treatment of integrative medicine - a combination of western and Chinese therapies.

"To look beyond strokes, we hope to analyze the patient records of many other types of diseases," said Dr Simon Poon.

Both Simon and Josiah Poon call it "myth busting" because they hope to find answers that are not expected. Coming from an IT background and having done Masters in public health, Dr Simon Poon recognizes that data-mining has to be worked together with other disciplines.

"When I started working on data-analytics, I was really focusing on the methodology, algorithms, the techniques. But in the last three or four years I just realized that it's a good set of tools, even if you are not interested in data-mining," added Associate Professor Simon Poon.

"Data is everywhere, and each one of those data could be a potential piece of information to help you to solve the problem."

Asked about why Hong Kong is chosen as the experiment ground, he said, "Hong Kong is a good choice because it mixes East and West, and also a place that is highly technologically advanced."

Statistics show that over 1 million people visit Chinese medicine doctors in 18 government clinics alone in Hong Kong, not to mention those resorting to the private institutions and practice. The research effort is significant in economics since it could help cut down the cost of the hospitals by finding out effective treatments and arrangements.

To further strengthen the position of the Joint Lab, Dr Josiah Poon will visit the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences (CACMS) in Beijing at the end-August.

The aim of the trip is to establish a formal research collaboration with the National Data Center of CACMS.

"We want to establish joint research, student exchange and, more importantly, to strengthen the project by accessing a large database in China where more patients' records are available for analysis," said Dr Poon.

Besides being research-driven, Dr Poon also has personal aspiration. "Being a Chinese in Australia for more than 30 years, I still would like to see how I can contribute back to my birth country, China."

One of the activities of the Joint Lab will organize a Symposium on Big Data Research in Integrative Medicine, with the first one to be held in July, 2016 in Sydney.

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