Patients take precedence for top researcher

Updated: 2015-05-28 07:49

By Yan Yiqi in Hangzhou(China Daily)

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Every Monday morning, 68-year-old Li Lanjuan sits in her office at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University's School of Medicine, in Hangzhou, receiving patients with hepatitis.

Despite being a leading figure in epidemiology in China, Li, has never failed to meet patients during her 42-year career and regards herself as an ordinary medical worker.

"I am, first and foremost, a doctor, and my biggest dream is that we can conquer infectious diseases," she said.

She has never stopped in the pursuit of her dream.

Li was assigned to the epidemiological department after she graduated in 1973. During her career, she has seen many patients dying from severe hepatitis, which damages the liver.

In the 1970s, up to 500,000 people died of liver failure each year in China. There was a pressing need to stem the tide.

In 1986, Li started research on an artificial liver support system.

"There were doubts and discouragements, but I believed as long as we stuck to one goal, there would be achievement," she said.

After more than 10 years of research, Li and her team eventually developed an artificial liver support system that effectively solved the problem of liver failure.

Implementation of the system saw the death rate from severe acute and subacute hepatitis drop from 88.1 percent to 21.1 percent, while in chronic cases, the death rate dropped from 84.6 percent to 56.6 percent.

The system Li developed has become the accepted method of treatment and has cured the most patients in the world.

Yet, Li did not rest on her laurels. During the development of the artificial liver support system, she discovered in 1994 that microecology, or the study of the gut, was closely related to hepatopathy, or liver disease.

Patients take precedence for top researcher

In the following 20 years, she created new theories on infectious microecology and proposed new strategies for its control.

Microecology has become a hot research topic internationally, but Wu Zhongwen, her first doctorate student in microecology, still remembers the difficulties they encountered when they started.

"My classmates even showed sympathy for me because they thought it was a hopeless research field. No one knows how many failures we had before the breakthroughs," he said.

Li's achievements have gained international recognition. In March, Li was chairwoman of the Fifth International Human Microbiome Congress held in Luxembourg, becoming the first Asian to hold this position.

Apart from hepatopathy studies, she has also made contributions to the public health field in China, fighting against SARS, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, post-earthquake epidemics, avian influenza and other infectious diseases.

Although she is nearing 70, Li said she will never stop doing research and serving her patients.

(China Daily 05/28/2015 page4)