As China updates its research protocols and Western scientists gain access to huge populations for genetics research, such partnerships are way of the future.

Barely off the plane from China, Xu Wenming is already busy in the laboratory of his new research partner, Quebecer Simon Wing, in the field of experimental genetic medicine at McGill University. Together they will try to unravel the genetic factors behind male infertility, hoping to help explain why more than two percent of men worldwide cannot get their partners pregnant.

Although they live more than 10,000 km apart, Dr. Xu and Dr. Wing are, in fact, members of a very small group of experts: fewer than 10 research groups in the world are looking at specific genetic mutations as potential determinants of male infertility. Dr. Wing, in a paper published last year, reported a new finding about fertility in mice (that inactivation of a gene involved in regulating the degradation of cellular proteins causes decreased fertility). If his findings prove to be true with humans, this could eventually lead to drug therapy for male carriers of that gene, as well as new approaches to creating male contraceptives.

To validate his results with humans, Dr. Wing needs a very large number of infertile male subjects. As it happens, his Chinese collaborator has access to precisely that. Dr. Xu’s research lab is attached to one of China’s largest university hospitals at Sichuan University in Chengdu City. The West China Second University Hospital treats thousands of infertile men each year. “We wouldn’t be able to have access to the same number of patients here,” said Dr. Wing.

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