GI Doctors Build a New Bridge to China

It started with an idea in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and became an international collaboration, when two branches of interventional GI—from different corners of the world—converged.

In July 2016, Dr. Mingyan Cai—a visiting surgeon from Zhongshan Hospital Fudan University in Shanghai, China—completed a three-month training rotation in endoscopic ultrasonography at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics under the mentorship of Drs. Rami El Abiad and Henning Gerke. During that rotation, Dr. Cai shared her expertise in tunnel endoscopy, specifically peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM), a novel technique for treating achalasia, a rare disorder that prohibits or restricts food from passing through the esophagus into the stomach. Dr. Cai also shared her knowledge of endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD), a treatment for GI tumors and early cancers.

Nearly a year later, in April 2017, Dr. El Abiad accepted Dr. Cai’s invitation to visit Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai. He spent three weeks training in ESD and in endoscopic full-thickness resection (EFTR), another technique for treating GI tumors and early cancers. While there, Dr. El Abiad also attended the annual Shanghai International Endoscopy Symposium and worked closely with Dr. Pinghong Zhou, a minimally invasive surgeon. Dr. Zhou is a pioneer in tunnel endoscopy and the head of the Zhongshan Hospital Endoscopy Center.

In May 2017, it was Dr. Zhou’s turn to travel to Iowa City. While at UIHC, he gave two lectures on cardiothoracic and minimally invasive surgery and shared his experience in tunnel endoscopy. Dr. Zhou presented innovative techniques in performing submucosal endoscopy and another technique useful in treating a variety of GI diseases called NOTES (natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery).

The trading of expertise and original and innovative techniques in the ever-growing field of interventional endoscopy is further evidence that international collaboration can be a great success. Dr. Cai, now a leader in endoscopic ultrasonography in China, took her newly gained knowledge from Dr. Gerke and Dr. El Abiad back to Shanghai, where she now passes on her Iowa experience to trainees and fellow physicians. Dr. El Abiad, in his turn, has utilized his new skills in ESD and EFTR to push the boundaries of interventional GI, treating more GI conditions without surgery. His connections there led to trainees here learning lessons that Dr. Zhou had to offer. By reaching beyond our borders, the GI Division has allowed UIHC to offer therapeutics that only a few centers in the United States provide and opened our institution to many future opportunities.

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