Psychiatrists Without Borders: Collaborating Across Cultures

April 27, 2016

Language barriers and cultural differences had little effect as McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School scientists and their colleagues from the Chinese Society of Psychiatry convened in early October to launch the first conference of the McLean Hospital-Chinese Society of Psychiatry Initiative in Psychiatry (MCIP). The three-day conference, held at McLean’s Belmont, Massachusetts, campus, included presentations and discussions on youth mental health, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

“The conference provided the opportunity for scientists to give one another an overview of their current research projects, resulting in a series of follow-up conversations for potential collaborations,” said Dost Öngür, MD, PhD, chief of McLean’s Division of Psychotic Disorders and co-director of the MCIP.

“Scientists from the U.S. and China are collecting similar data and it will be beneficial to join forces and analyze some of that information together.”– Dost Öngür, MD, PhD

“Topics were focused on cognition, genetics, and EEG and MRI research—information converging on brain abnormalities in people with schizophrenia.”

Established in 2014, the MCIP has a goal to expand cross-cultural research opportunities, provide mutually beneficial information and resources, and foster collaboration among clinician-investigators from both countries who specialize in major psychotic and mood disorders.

“Through this program, investigators gain access to cutting-edge methodologies and technologies as well as a wide range of patient populations and data from their counterparts,” Öngür said. “Scientists from both countries are collecting similar data and it will be beneficial to join forces and analyze some of that information together.”

The MCIP was made possible by an anonymous donor interested in fostering collaborations between the two countries. “We are grateful for such a generous philanthropic donation, as we expect this to be a successful initiative in advancing mental health care between China and the United States,” he said.

Christopher M. Palmer, MD, McLean’s director of Postgraduate and Continuing Education, who serves as administrative director for the MCIP, said the conference allowed participants to “gain a much broader appreciation for the breadth and scope of research that’s occurring in different fields in both countries.”

“The MCIP is a vehicle to connect senior psychiatric clinicians and researchers at McLean and Harvard with those in China,” said Palmer. “We’ve brought together some of the top researchers in these fields to have them simply start conversations and brainstorm how we can better advance the field. Remarkable things can happen when the right people have the opportunity to connect. This initiative has significant potential.”

While McLean/Harvard Medical School and Chinese psychiatrists have worked together in previous years, said Palmer, “the MCIP allows researchers to work in a more systematic way. A critical component of this collaboration is the development of the organization’s new website and software platform, which will allow us to more easily facilitate live streaming, webinars, and training sessions.”

He added that another benefit of the MCIP is ongoing training opportunities for McLean Hospital’s psychiatry residents. “Several of the residents attended the conference with the goal of wanting to learn more about what area of study they want to focus on.”

“With the two countries working together,” said Öngür, “we will be more effective in identifying causes and developing treatments for psychiatric illness in an effort to have a positive global impact.”

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