Epidemiologist, 73, Once More at Frontline of Epidemic Prevention and Control

March 8, 2020
Editor: Wang Liyan

Li Lanjuan, a top epidemiologist with Zhejiang University, has volunteered to integrate her decades-long experience in the containment of infectious diseases with the battle against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the frontline in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak and capital city of Central China's Hubei Province.

Li, 73, is an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a member of the high-level expert team on the COVID-19 convened by the National Health Commission. She has consistently been at the frontline of the epidemic prevention and control efforts, participating in the analysis of the source of the communicable virus and the plan making for different versions of clinical treatment. She also stressed the importance of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in curing virus-infected patients, and she came up with many proposals concerning prevention and control strategies since mid-January.

Going to the Hard-hit Place

Li headed a delegation of medical workers leaving East China's Zhejiang Province to aid Wuhan's prevention and control efforts on February 1.

In an interview before her departure, Li said that she would do her utmost to save the lives of those in critical conditions using the practical experience and effective measures she accumulated in the battle against the H7H9 bird flu virus in 2013.

Li replied that Jinyintan Hospital, which had received the majority of patients in critical condition, would be the top destination during her stay in Wuhan if she were allowed to personally select favorite medical institutes, when asked where she most wanted to work.

"I have never thought about when I will leave Wuhan and return to Zhejiang. Instead, I have made up my mind to stand firm with local medical personnel in the treatment of virus-infected patients," Li said.

Li and her teammates immediately plunged into their intensive work when they arrived in Wuhan on the early morning of the next day.

On February 4, they announced the good news that arbidol and darunavir had been found to effectively inhibit the novel coronavirus. Since then, they have been running non-stop to research and develop a potential vaccine.

Jiang Ying'an, vice-president of Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, lauded Li as the backbone of the nation because she still works against the clock even though she is in her 70s.

Staying True to the Dream of Being a Doctor

Instead of being a teacher, which was an admirable profession for many people at that time, Li chose to be a barefoot doctor in her hometown in the city of Shaoxing when she completed high school academic studies.

At that time, nearly 1,300 residents of her village knew Li well. Later, she was inspired to go to Hangzhou-based Zhejiang Hospital of TCM to learn traditional Chinese acupuncture in a systematic way when she found that many villagers often suffered great pains in their back because of their heavy workloads in agricultural activities.

Thanks for her outstanding work, Li was recommended to study at the former Zhejiang Medical University (the School of Medicine of Zhejiang University) two years later. She went to the First Affiliated Hospital of the School of Medicine at Zhejiang University after graduating from the university.

Li and her team concentrated on the research and development of medicine for severe hepatitis in the 1980s, when its mortality rate was as high as 80 percent.

Ten years later, they successfully founded their own artificial liver supporting system, which was named after her and is now the most popular and effective technology in the treatment of liver diseases in the world.

To recognize her prominent contributions to the treatment of severe hepatitis, Li was bestowed with the Grand Prize of China's National Science and Technology Progress Awards in January 2018.

Epidemiologist, 73, Once More at Frontline of Epidemic Prevention and Control
Li (6th, R) poses for a group photo with her teammates when they arrive in Wuhan on the early morning of February 2. [Xinhua]


Putting in Endless Effort to Promote Innovation in Medicine

Li was elected to the Chinese Academy of Engineering in November 2005 as the top domestic epidemiologist. She downplayed the national honor but instead stressed that she would always be a doctor when others extended their congratulations to her.

Along with her teammates, Li has continued with research on hepatitis and the production of relevant medicine over the past decades. So far, they have successfully uncovered the rules of micro-ecological development in hepatitis patients' intestinal tracts, explained the ties between the micro-ecological changes of the intestinal tract and the occurrence and development of severe hepatitis, and enriched theoretical interpretations of its pathogenesis.

Meanwhile, Li made noticeable contributions to the success of the battle against the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003 and the outbreak of H7H9 bird flu virus in 2013.

For instance, she became the first person to share with the rest of the world the full sequence of the H7N9 genome and later confirmed that the source of the communicable virus was live poultry markets. The discovery later proved to be crucial in reducing human-to-human transmission and winning the battle against the virus.

The scientific achievement made by Li and her team over the past two decades has tremendously enhanced the country's international status in the field of medical micro-ecology.

Moreover, she was elected as president of the 5th International Conference on Micro-ecology Alliance in March 2015 in Luxemburg. It is the first time that the high-level international body has had a chief from China or even from Asia.

Bringing Hope to More Hepatitis Patients 

Li has been holding free training sessions on her artificial liver supporting technology annually since 2001 in a drive to help more patients from across the country benefit from her advanced scientific research.

She explained that the aim of her free training was to ensure that patients can receive timely treatment at local medical institutes without flying to her in Hangzhou at huge cost.

Figures show that the artificial liver supporting technology has been promoted in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, saved the lives of over 2,000 patients, and fundamentally increased the survival rate of patients plagued with a hepatitis-caused failure of their liver.

With the support of social forces, Li and her husband, who is also a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, jointly set up a charity fund entitled the Academician Shulan Talent Foundation at Zhejiang University in May 2012 to reward domestic scientific and technological workers in medical research and clinical fields.

Li, who has shouldered great responsibility and the hopes of Chinese people, again went to the battlefield without any hesitation when the COVID-19 disease broke out in Wuhan in late January.


(Women of China)

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