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Prof. Shaw-Jenq Tsai’s Teamwork on Cancer Cell Research Becomes First Taiwanese Study to Be Recognized in the Best of the AACR Journals

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Noncoding Effects of Circular RNA CCDC66 Promote Colon Cancer Growth and Metastasis, the fruit of four years of study conducted by Distinguished Professor Shaw-Jenq Tsai’s research team at the Department of Physiology at NCKU, was recognized by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) as one of the Best of the AACR Journals in 2017. This is the first time that researchers in Taiwan have received this special honor, and this paper is the first study regarding circular RNA’s function to be actually verified using animal testing and human specimens.

Professor Tsai received the good news in March this year. Not only was their study honored as one of the most-cited articles published in 2017 of the AACR journals, their paper was even placed at the top of the list in Cancer Research, of which more than 600 papers are published annually. This achievement is truly exceptional.

According to the AACR, Cancer Research, in which the paper of Professor Tsai’s research team was published in May of 2017, is the oldest and most authoritative of the AACR’s eight journals. The comprehensive analysis of experimental and clinical data in their study proved that circular RNA indeed has biological functions and that its overexpression promotes the swift growth and metastasis of colon cancer cells. It is an outstanding paper that combines big data analysis in bioinformatics and evidence-based medicine.

The AACR further indicated that after its publication, this study has been eagerly read by many cancer research centers around the world and widely discussed on academic community websites. At the end of the year, it was even rated as a highly cited paper (top 1%) and a hot paper (top 0.1%) by Web of Science, an international authority on paper rankings. In 2018, the number of its citations and the attention it received continued to rise, and it was again rated a highly cited paper and a hot paper by Web of Science.

Professor Tsai attributed the honor to the efforts of the research team. He admitted that research is a path of many hardships but stated that he endeavors to encourage his junior colleagues and students with positivity and optimism. To him, doing research in a down-to-earth manner and then receiving attention and citations from scientists around the world is the best reward for all the efforts.

Professor Tsai explained that with the arrival of the big data era, quality standards for scientific research papers are becoming higher and higher. In addition to being original and not following the footsteps of others, one must also know how to tap into resources and find useful information to implement the study. He said, “In cancer research filed, around a hundred of cases was enough evidence to support your findings in the past. Now, you need to search for thousands or even tens of thousands of cases to support your theory, and that is extremely difficult.”

According to Professor Tsai, the amount of funds invested in scientific research in Taiwan is only 1.5% of that invested around the world. Among them, 78% of those funds are from private companies, and only 22% come from government to support whole nation’s research, which means Taiwan is far behind other nations in terms of financial resources. However, the advantage in Taiwan is that everyone, including the professors, the postdoctoral researchers, and the students, are working hard. Thus, many innovative ideas or unprecedented studies can be published on prestigious international journals and have the opportunity to shine in the international community and exert a significant impact on the whole world.

Professor Tsai also mentioned that based on the 2017 Nature Index, Taiwan was ranked the 20th in the world in scientific performance, which shows that Taiwan is among the highest in the world when it comes to basic research. However, there has been some decline in recent years, and this should serve as a warning. “Basic research is key to cultivating a country’s scientific strength. The government should invest heavily to support basic research and develop young talent in scientific research so that more fine research teams will be able to enter the international arena and show Taiwan’s scientific strength to the world!”

To thank researchers for their contributions to greater journal quality in cancer research, the AACR held a welcoming banquet and award ceremony during their annual general meeting in Atlanta, Georgia in the US. The AACR is one of the most authoritative medical associations around the world and has more than 42,000 members from around the world. AACR publishes eight journals and keeps tracking how many times each published paper is cited to ensure journal quality.

The research interests of Professor Tsai, distinguished professor of the Department of Physiology at NCKU, include translational medicine, bioinformatics, epigenetics, and endometriosis. He has published around 110 papers that have accumulated over 5,100 citations over the years. He has an H-index of 43 and an i10-index (indicating the number of publications with at least 10 citations) of 86. He has served as the Director General of the Department of Life Sciences in the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan, and he received the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine in 2014 and the Outstanding Research Award from the National Science Council in 2011.
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