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Doc spawns fertility research deal

October 27, 2005

By Holly Lake
The Ottawa Sun

It's fitting that Dr. Ben Tsang's ideas are reproducing.

He's the director of the Ottawa Hospital's reproductive biology unit and 15 years ago he planted the seed for a research partnership between Canadian and Japanese scientists.

It grew out of a meeting at a conference with a Japanese researcher studying the same questions in female infertility as he was.

Tsang says at first, they thought they were competitors. But they soon realized that with different ways of looking at the same issues, more could be gained by working together.

What started as a partnership between two researchers a world apart has grown into a consortium led by the University of Ottawa, involving scientists at nine Japanese and seven Canadian universities.

Tsang, also a senior scientist at the Ottawa Health Research Institute (OHRI) and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at U of O, is hoping to duplicate that success.

BEIJING WORKSHOP

During the September visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, the university, partnering with OHRI, signed an agreement with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to collaborate in reproductive health research. Tsang will lead a 25-member delegation to Beijing next month for a bilateral workshop to decide on projects.

"These two countries are very different culturally, but we have the same challenges," he said.

Areas of study will include contraception, infertility and assisted reproduction. While China is overpopulated, Tsang said there is still a need for such work.

"(China) also believes that couples who can't conceive should have that option," he said.

In Canada, one in six couples is infertile -- something that's not often spoken about.

"Another aspect of this collaboration is to look at how environmental factors, including industrial waste and lifestyle factors, are affecting reproductive health."

Cancers of the reproductive organs will be a focus, as will sexually transmitted diseases, which have flourished in China.

Yesterday, China's executive minister of health, Gao Qiang, visited the campus and the Ottawa Hospital. Tsang said he's "very receptive and supportive" of the partnership.

Going back to the days when he thought he was competing with his Japanese colleague, Tsang said it holds true today that different ways of looking at things are the strength of these collaborations. "The bottom line is improving the health of Canadians and the Chinese."

Note: Reproduced with permission from the Ottawa Sun.