Breaking boundaries and building powerful partnerships

Dr. Roberto Hernandez-Alejandro

When Dr. Roberto Hernandez-Alejandro first traveled to West China Hospital, Sichuan University in 2010, he never imagined the powerful partnership he would come to build with members of its Division of Hepatobiliary Surgery and Liver Transplantation.

Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro gave three lectures during his visit that presented the work on hepatobiliary surgery and liver transplantation he and his colleagues were completing in London, Ontario.

An invitation to complete complex liver and pancreas operations at West China Hospital followed, leading to an evolving relationship with the team there.

“Once we built open lines of communication, I explained what my team and I could offer them,” Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro said. “They had a high number of patients and a large amount of data, but needed resources allocated to strategy, statistics and editing, and assisting with publishing papers. Our team could help them with this.”

West China Hospital has a high volume of patients, but with the help and expertise of Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro and his team their work would become publishable and have higher impact in the clinical world. By building one cohesive team, the Hospital and Schulich Medicine & Dentistry have collaboratively had four papers published since 2011 that discuss research on liver cancer and liver transplantation.

One of the four papers they had published was a retrospective study on more than 1,000 cases of patients with cirrhosis with hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a primary tumour in the liver. Through this study, they showed that the patients who underwent radioablation had the same outcomes as the patients who underwent surgery, but the patients who underwent surgery had longer hospital stays, higher complication rates and higher medical costs.

“It’s incredible that this success could come out of one trip, and one cohesive vision between two groups on an international scale,” he said.

For Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro, making the most of a collaborative international opportunity means ensuring more than one person or group benefits from the arrangement. As a medical professional that has received education and training in Canada, the United States, Mexico and Japan, he understands the value of these kinds of experiences.

That is why he has always encouraged his residents and trainees to take part in this global partnership.

In 2011, he sent one of his residents to West China Hospital for a two-month rotation in the area of hepatobiliary surgery and liver transplantation, which gave him the opportunity to perform surgery in a new setting. He has also always included one of his residents on the collaborative papers with the Hospital.

“For our residents to have the opportunity to travel to a different culture, operate on a high volume of patients and work with diseases not common to the Western world, it is a fantastic experience,” Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro explained. “We should continue embracing these international experiences — not only with the West China Hospital, but also with other groups around the world. It will benefit Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, and the University as a whole.”

Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro and his team will continue to collaborate on multiple projects with West China Hospital in the future, and look for ways residents and trainees can benefit from this partnership.

Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro is an Associate Professor with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s Department of Surgery, and the Surgical Director of Liver Transplantation at London Health Sciences Centre.