Wave of connection

China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-02 03:38

Wave of connection

Pedro Valdes Sosa won the Tianfu Friendship Award from the Sichuan provincial government in 2016. PHOTOS PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Cuban neuroscientist Pedro Valdes Sosa has helped bring medical technology to China. Liu Xiangrui reports.

Cuban neuroscientist Pedro Valdes Sosa's dream of using sci-ence to change people's lives brought him to China.

The 67-year-old heads the China-Cuba Laboratory for Translational Neurotechnology at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

The facility was established in 2013 by the university and the Cuban Neuroscience Center, the institute he cofounded in Havana.

He was previously associated with the Cuban Academy of Sciences, among other institutes.

"Since I was a child, I was fascinated by China, and there is a reason for that," says Sosa.

His family members were communists. His uncle visited China soon after the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949 and met Premier Zhou Enlai.

Sosa was born and raised in the United States — his par-ents moved there as doctors —but he recalls hearing about China from his family and reading books.

He later saw the advantages of working in China, including the scientific potential. He was keen to bring Cuba's medical development experience to the country.

In 1990, he and his twin brother founded the Cuban Neuroscience Center and used informatics to analyze brain activity.

Soon, they began cooperating with Chinese institutions and Sosa began visiting China.

They helped introduce new technologies to China, including the first computerized electroencephalogram system.

Sosa has worked closely with Yao Dezhong, director of the School of Life Science and Technology at the Chengdu university, since 2011.

In 2015, Sosa applied for China's Thousand Talents program that seeks to attract top researchers from the country and abroad and shifted the majority of his activities to China.

His team in Chengdu has been researching the early-stage monitoring, intervention and rehabilitation of such mental conditions as Alzheimer's disease and depres-sion.

The team also aims to help make actual products that can be introduced in the country's public healthcare system, he says.

"I studied medicine and mathematics. So I like theory. But I also want our results to have an impact on public health," Sosa says.

His team has started testing wearable devices that may help to achieve such goals.

Wave of connection

Sosa works with international students at the China-Cuba Laboratory for Translational Neurotechnology at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, Sichuan province. Photos provided to China Daily

The human brain is the "most sophisticated biological computer" as a result of evolution. Studying it requires a multidisciplinary approach, he says.

"Nearly every few days, there is something I learn from scratch. You never get bored," he says about the research.

Sosa keeps busy. He not only supervises the Chengdu laboratory but also communicates with the collaborating laboratory in Cuba through video conferences.

Dong Yeyun, a member of the Chengdu team, says Sosa is usually the last to leave the laboratory.

"He is always passionate about his work and curious about all new things," Dong says.

In the past few years, Sosa has tried to promote the university and the research facility.

He has also helped the university create a cooperation framework that brings together universities and medical institutes in China, Cuba and Canada.

Over the years, Sosa has been active in promoting brain mapping and setting up international collaborations, such as the Cuban and Latin-American Brain Mapping projects. He has recruited about 10 researchers from Turkey, Cuba and other countries to work at the Chengdu laboratory.

"I think science is an international enterprise, and it is our duty to help people from all over the world," he says.

Sosa says he and his team face challenges not only on technical aspects of their research but also when it comes to integrating research with the market like lowering the cost of medical technology to make it accessible to more people.

He says Chengdu is a "friendly and enjoyable city". He enjoys green tea and local food, and has started to learn to play mahjong.

He previously visited markets, bought spices and tried to cook Chinese food at home.

Dong says Sosa is sociable and gets along with all the members in the laboratory very well. He sometimes invites them to his home for meals.

"I find China fascinating. I expect to spend quite a few years here," says Sosa, who has signed five-year contract with the Chengdu university.

His wife, Maria Vega, who's also a scientist, has joined him at his work in Chengdu.

Sosa was given the Tianfu Friendship Award by the Sichuan provincial government in 2016.

The award honors foreigners who have made important contributions to the province's development.

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