What Happens....Made in China....???


When a patient arrived in the neurosurgery ward of Shanghai's Fudan University Huashan Hospital with a chopstick protruding from one eye, surgeon Zhu Jianhong was not surprised. He knew that Shanghai dinners are long affairs, lubricated with shots of 110-proof grain alcohol, and that when tensions boil over, chopsticks can become weapons. As Zhu extracted the utensil, it occurred to him to culture the brain tissue that was stuck to it. At the time, scientists thought cells from only two regions of the brain were expandable; this tissue was from neither. But Zhu's experiment worked. The next few times he was confronted with a head wound, Zhu took his work one step further, transplanting the expanded neural cells back into the patient's brain. The six patients he treated over the next three years showed better recovery than untreated patients. A delegation of British scientists who visited Zhu last year was uniformly impressed, calling the study "ground-breaking" in a government report. "There's nobody else in the world who's even close to doing that," said Stephen Minger, director of the stem cell biology lab at King's College London. Indeed, much of the work the Chinese are doing with stem cells simply could not be conducted in most other parts of the world: The proliferation of chopsticks notwithstanding, China has one of the most liberal environments in the world for stem cell research. While the ethical debate over the use of embryos in research continues to rage in much of the West, researchers like Zhu have the Chinese government and popular sentiment firmly behind them.For decades, China was barely a blip on the scientific radar. Communism's arbitrary appointments, combined with the Cultural Revolution's disdain for education, crippled Chinese science. But today China is in the midst of a scientific revolution. China's current economic and political strategy, as named by President Hu Jintao at a recent Central Committee meeting, is the "scientific development concept." The idea is to balance economic growth with attention to China's growing social issues, many of which could be better tackled with the tools that science and technology provide. On the ground, it means that China is developing the sciences now, in the same rapid, breathtaking way that China overhauled its economy. The Chinese government is pouring money into everything from biotechnology to its ambitious space program, which culminates this month in the launch of the manned shuttle Shenzhou VI. And as with most things, timing is key. The steaming Chinese economy, combined with greater opportunities for professional advancement than in the West, is convincing many of the 600,000 students China has sent overseas since the late 1970s that now is the time to return. All of the principal scientists on China's Human Genome Project team—and half of the scholars in the Shanghai branches of the Chinese Academy of the Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the major Chinese science institutes—are returnees. The government increased its funding to domestic education by 600% between 1991 and 2001, and it continues to go up. According to research done by Rice University, by 2010, if current trends continue, more than 90% of all scientists and engineers in the world will be living in Asia, and many of those in China. Equipped with fluency in English, Chinese scientists now publish in the international journals that are the barometer of scientific success in the West. Between 1988 and 2001, article output grew by a factor of five (in the same period it only increased by 10% in the U.S.).

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