The journey is richer than the destination:

TMU sends foreign students onward to global partners

“As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.” (C.P. Cavafy)

Although the classic poem Ithaca is more than a century old, it holds a wise message for this age of globalization: movement in one direction is not enough to fuel a lifetime of learning.

That is why TMU is working to give its students the world in new and exciting ways.

If it seems onerous to ask international students to first adjust to Taiwan’s culture and then move on to France, Canada, the United States, Japan, Italy and other destinations, so far it has been a great success for all involved as the students have eagerly mastered these challenges.

The results have cemented dual degree programs as well as advancing research ties. The milestones of this growth process include at least one globe-spanning dissertation defense involving three languages, a handful of Skype screens, and a victory toast of champagne. A TMU professor from France who studied in the US Midwest has sent students from Taiwan and Burkina Faso to Lille, where decades ago he was the first to isolate the human immunodeficiency virus in blood products.

TMU’s American connections are strong as well, with partnerships and a dual degree program in California, plus a handful of programs with Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and Penn State. Students benefit too from TMU faculty and postdoctoral links with research powerhouse RIKEN, which has welcomed young TMU researchers and faculty to Japan’s top laboratories.

But this story focuses on TMU’s globalization efforts involving institutions in Montreal and Halifax, beginning with a Canadian-Taiwanese TMU professor sending a Singaporean student to francophone Quebec to build on his work on “virus-like particles” that hold promise for cancer treatments.

“To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.”

Shu Hui Wong started her higher education wanting to be a doctor, but after two years of undergraduate biomedical studies “it was immunology that really interested me.” She said, “Doing an honors thesis was what helped me discover and cultivate a passion toward research work; I thoroughly enjoy the explorative and challenging nature of the endeavor,” unlike just learning skills with the goal being a known outcome.

Her original thesis on functional antibody engineering for cancer imaging applications led to her graduation with honors from prestigious National University of Singapore. Aspiring to further her interests in translational cancer immunological research, specifically oncolytic virotherapy which has begun to stem as an emerging next generation strategy to treat cancer, she looked for a lab that was strong in this area after her graduation. She read the relevant literature and researched many US and Canadian institutes known for pioneering work on oncolytic virotherapy.

Then, using the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations exchange portal website, she found the publications of TMU Professor LiangTzung Lin. She was intrigued by his expertise in virology and recombinant genetic engineering, including with measles virus that showed promise for viro-immunotherapies.

So she sent an email asking about potential opportunities at TMU. By the time she was interviewed in June, Shu Hui had been working in Professor Lin’s lab for 14 months, starting with an internship that convinced her to pursue her degree at TMU.

“I like the lab; it’s friendly and welcoming, so it was easy to adjust,” she said. “I also like that we worked independently but often discuss and learn from each other, especially with my lab coworkers.” She said that in her previous scientific experience she’d been the only student in the lab, so there had been less collegiality.

“On top of that, working under the highly driven and supportive guidance of Professor Lin has been truly inspiring to me.” Shu Hui said Professor Lin provides her with various learning opportunities and pushes her to read a lot, but hastens to add that this is not a complaint but a compliment – because in her experience it is rare for a professor to have that level of concern about a student’s knowledge base.

Now she’s working on expanding her background in virology relating to viral pseudoparticles, also called virus-like particles, by producing and experimenting with them. Her goal for her TMU master’s studies is to develop strong scientific capabilities and achieve a good publication. And the next stopping point on her journey is a year at Canada’s most famous cancer and infectious disease research laboratory at the University of Montreal.

“Always keep Ithaca in your mind; to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.”

Professor Lin’s work with viral engineering and recombinant measles virus to make virus-like particles has been widely noted, but he credits his own global path with leading him to share international partnerships with his students. His Taiwanese parents moved from Japan, then to Taiwan, then to Canada when he was in third grade. So he immediately had to start learning in French as well as English, having already been educated in Chinese and Japanese.

Exposure to extreme demands for language learning and cultural adaptability were not as relevant to his TMU research as his exposure to the best of international scientific research in his four languages. He was trained by prominent virologists in Canada and Japan during his formative years as a scientist, and always sought collaborators from abroad by connecting with researchers around the world because “These kinds of bridges make science more interesting.” Now he’s planning to send Shu Hui to the Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) because of its retroviral research, which is fundamental to building viral pseudoparticles.

Professor Lin has worked with many overseas investigators and knows the strengths of different labs, and says it’s best for students to learn skills in a variety of settings. Since the IRCM already works with his TMU lab to validate leads, Shu Hui is preparing for her Canada year with coursework, French language lessons and a research plan.

Professor Lin hopes that a formal dual degree program will be approved by both universities next spring so more students can make use of this opportunity. “It enhances the research experience of students to bridge with other universities,” Professor Lin said. He credited IRCM’s commitment of financial support with making these foreign experiences affordable for visiting TMU students.

“Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.”

Professor Lin started his lab at TMU in viral infectious diseases and viral oncolytics, emphasizing both international participation and teamwork. “Shu Hui’s project is finding better ways to use a viral vector to fight disease,” he said. “She’s coming up with good ideas.”

“It’s a booming field,” Professor Lin said. “This is the dawn of biological therapies. These viral particles can be tailored to individual patients as a type of personalized medicine, which is promising given the variations observed in tumor types from patient to patient.” This kind of research isn’t ready for “bedside” treatment applications in Taiwan yet, but a few such treatments have been approved abroad: Oncorine in China and T-Vec in the US, with the latter being a herpesvirus-based vector approved by the FDA to fight melanoma.

He said that his lab is “looking for other opportunities” for international collaboration. “Since TMU is focused on medicine and isn’t a huge university, other institutions can help our students diversify their expertise and interests. Sending students abroad is an excellent way to build their skills — and to build bridges that will be useful in their later careers.”

Professor Lin is also excited about working with University of Cagliari Professor Enzo Tramontano to develop novel antivirals targeting HIV. This Italian virologist has a world-renowned “antiviral summer school” program that gathers researchers as well as product engineers from industry in this specialty for two weeks of networking and brainstorming. Several TMU students have participated in this event, including Professor Lin’s students.

Another promising destination for TMU’s global cooperation is Dalhousie University in Halifax, which has the Canadian Center for Vaccinology, and is a hub to several prominent laboratories developing viral oncolytics. TMU recently established a joint PhD program with Dalhousie University to help students access these training opportunities, with a MD-PhD student from Professor Lin’s lab currently enrolled.

Professor Lin also recently completed a pilot project on viral oncolytics with Case Western Reserve University, arguably TMU’s most important global partner. Case Western Reserve University has several areas of expertise that complement TMU’s research endeavors, Professor Lin said.

TMU continues to increase the numbers of domestic students it sends abroad for international training opportunities, as well as the students from Burkina Faso, Singapore and other nations who first landed to pursue their studies in Taipei but have been placed in research institutions worldwide. For some people, repeated adjustments to new cultures may sound like an ordeal, but these young scientists find it rewarding.

“I want to move as much as I can in my career,” Shu Hui said. “If you stay too long, you stagnate.” She has been home twice in her 14 TMU months, and says her family is supportive of her self-sufficient and independent path toward a scientific research career: “I don’t expect to get rich, but this is a way to do what I love.”

For interviews or a copy of the paper, contact Office of Global Engagement via