Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital and Medical Center in Taiwan has joined forces with the University of Santo Tomas (UST) to embark on a clinical study on “telomeres.” Telomeres, often described as the guardians of gene stability, are specialized DNA repeats found at the ends of chromosomes. Their length gradually shortens with each round of chromosome replication, and when they become too short, it triggers cell apoptosis. This unique biological phenomenon allows the length of telomeres to function as a clock for cell division, providing insights into an individual’s biological age. Moreover, telomeres have been found to be closely associated with medical conditions, including bone marrow failure, cancer, and a range of aging-related diseases.
Under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s New Southbound 2.0 Program, Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital has been proactively involved in “New Southbound Medical and Health Cooperation and Industrial Chain Development.” A pivotal development occurred in 2023 when the hospital facilitated the establishment of the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Chongren General Hospital in the Philippines. This strategic move has laid the foundation for a multinational clinical trial program, which commenced in mid-October, carried out in close collaboration with the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines. This comprehensive program not only involves imparting technical training to the Philippine medical and research team but also encompasses the creation of a DNA database, with the overarching aim of advancing the treatment of telomere-related diseases.
Dr. Shang-Hsien Yang, who conducted extensive research on bone marrow failure syndrome at Boston Children’s Hospital in the United States, played a pivotal role in establishing the technical platform for telomere-related research. Under his guidance and with support from Cheng Yoong Pang, Deputy Director of the Department of Medical Research, and Dr. Liuh-Yow Chen, Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Molecular Biology, Academia Sinica, this international clinical trial collaboration program with the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines became a reality.
Director Li emphasized the growing importance of cross-border clinical trials by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. He underscored the rarity of clinical trial cooperation between Taiwan and the Philippines, making this partnership a significant achievement.
Relatedly, the “Telomere Clinical Research and Taiwan Medical Humanities Exchange Workshop” took place at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital and Medical Center in Hualien City, Taiwan, from October 10 to 16, 2023. The inaugural ceremony gathered a distinguished assembly of key figures in the medical field. UST participants in the said workshop included Prof. Pia Marie Albano, Ph.D., Assoc. Prof. Maureen Sabit, Ph.D. and Ms. Mariella Cielo Cobarrubias, M.Sc. – academic staff of the UST Department of Biological Sciences, BS Biology alumnus Jerome Alfred Tabajonda, and Dr. Flordeluna Zapata-Mesina, a hematologic oncologist from the University of Santo Tomas Hospital. Their presence marked a historic moment in the burgeoning transnational medical collaboration between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Director Yang expressed optimism that the collaboration and hands-on laboratory work would foster mutual understanding between Taiwan and the Philippines, ensuring smoother cooperation in future clinical trials. Dr. Albano, renowned for her work in cancer research, aspired to uncover the link between telomeres and human health through future clinical trials, with the potential to advance cancer research. The workshop, spanning several days, included presentations on telomere research, laboratory training, and in-depth discussions with the Philippine team. This initiative holds the potential to advance our understanding of telomeres and their role in healthcare, ultimately benefiting patients and medical practitioners worldwide.
This cooperative endeavor not only signifies a rare instance of clinical trial cooperation between the two nations but also represents a significant step forward in the healthcare domain.