Joseph Tucker, Assistant Professor, UNC School of Medicine and Director, UNC Project-China. On the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)
Joseph Tucker, Assistant Professor, UNC School of Medicine and Director, UNC Project-China. On the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
(Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Joseph Tucker’s parents back in western North Carolina understood why their son wanted to be a doctor. They got it when he decided to specialize in infectious diseases in far-off China. But now they aren’t quite sure what he’s doing, he said. Neither is the National Institutes of Health. But they like it.

“We actually have no idea what you’re doing,” one NIH grant reviewer told him on a recent grant application, “but we think this is absolutely fantastic, and we really hope it gets funded.”

Tucker, in Chapel Hill recently to touch base with his Carolina colleagues, chuckled at the recollection. “That was really a funny review.”

Tucker is director of UNC Project-China, a collaboration of Carolina faculty, students and trainees with Chinese partner organizations to conduct research on HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, maternal and child health, non-communicable diseases and other global health concerns.

Tucker started sexual health research in China 17 years ago. He is located in South China, in Guangzhou (formerly called Canton), the capital of Guangdong province. Guangzhou is centered in the Pearl River Delta, which is not only the largest urban area in the world in both size and population but also a hub for technology and entrepreneurship, similar to Silicon Valley.

That similarity made Tucker rethink how to promote sexual health in the region. “Why not use enterprise and innovation as a way to combat sexual health problems and to promote syphilis testing and HIV testing?” he thought.

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