School of Biomedical Sciences


Research Questions

  • How do cancers take control of our body and develop into a deadly disease?
  • Where do stem cells come from and how can we harness their potential for regenerative medicine?
  • How can the mouse as a model organism provide answers and therapies to human diseases?
  • Can big data transform biomedical discovery and digital healthcare?
  • How does our brain work or fail to work in events such as aging, cognitive disorders and neurodegeneration?
  • How can we design, evolve and engineer molecules, circuits and systems for a next generation of therapeutics and diagnostics?
Research student in a lab
Research Areas

1. Brain and Cognitive Sciences

Cognitive functions are orchestrated by neurons and glial cells in different regions of the brain, and represent one of the major issues in neurodegenerative diseases and brain disorders. Our School collaboratively investigates the molecular events that support cognitive functions, including the formation and retraction of synapses, dendrites and axons. We use zebrafish, Xenopus, rat, and mouse as genetic model organisms to investigate neurodevelopment, neuromuscular junction formation, physiological functions of neurons and glial cells, neuroinflammation, and pathological mechanisms that lead to neurodegeneration and neurocognitive disorders. We also assess the value of deep brain stimulation, neuroprotective effects from exercise and diet, and the potential utility of stem cells in neuroregeneration.

Supervisor(s) Research Interest

Dr RCC Chang

Neurodegeneration; Neuroimmunology; Alzheimer's disease; Parkinson's disease dementia; Microglia; Neuroprotection; Post-operative cognitive dysfunctions

Dr MCH Cheung

Neural development; Modelling neurological diseases and melanoma 

Dr ML Fung

Hypoxia physiology

Dr KO Lai

Neuronal signaling and synapse development; Intracellular transport 

Dr CSW Lai

Two-photon in vivo imaging; Learning and memory; Synaptic plasticity 

Dr CW Lee

Extracellular matrix remodeling in synapse development and disease 

Dr LW Lim

Behavioural, cellular and molecular neuroscience; Neuromodulation in psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders 

Dr YQ Song

Human genetics; Bioinformatics and functional genomics

  

2. Cell Signalling and Cancer Biology

Cell signalling defines the means via which cells sense and respond to internal and external cues, and is fundamental to cell proliferation and survival, cell-cell communication, and cell differentiation and organismal development. For instance, when cells detect changes in nutrient levels within its microenvironment a cascade of signalling events would ensue such that cell and tissue homeostasis can be maintained. One important focus of study within our School is cell signalling and how its alteration can lead to various diseases including cancer. Members of our School are also researching on a wide variety of aspects of biology implicated in the origin and growth of cancer, including cancer stem cell and self-renewal, DNA replication and repair, metabolism, metastasis, cell cycle and immune escape.

Supervisor(s) Research Interest

Dr CP Chan

Molecular virology and innate immunity; Molecular biology and transcriptional regulation

Dr MCH Cheung

Neural development; Modelling neurological diseases and melanoma

Dr LWT Cheung

Cancer driver mutations; Cancer signaling; Drug sensitivity and resistance mechanisms

Dr YP Ching

Centrosome biogenesis; Rho signalling; Chromosome instability and cancer metastasis

Dr CYS Chung

Chemical biology; Proteomics; Mass spectrometry; Molecular imaging; Medicinal chemistry

Dr ML Fung

Hypoxia physiology

Dr B Gao

Cell signaling in development and disease; Genetic and molecular basis of skeletal disorders

Professor MSY Huen

DNA repair; Genome stability; DNA damage responses; Cell cycle checkpoint control

Professor DY Jin

Molecular virology and oncology

Dr SC Kwon

RNA biology and genome engineering

Dr SKY Ma

Cancer stem cells; Tumor microenvironment; Drug resistance; Targeted therapy; Liver cancer; Basic/translational cancer research

Professor R Sun

Advance virology and development biology by integrating quantitative, structural, genomic, proteomic and immunological approaches

Dr JSC Ti

Employing fluorescence and electron microscopy to dissect the function of microtubules and microtubule-associated proteins

Dr CM Tong

Cancer targeted therapy; Therapy resistance and cancer stemness

Professor GSW Tsao

Pathogenesis of nasopharyngeal carcinoma; Tumor microenvironment and viral infection

Dr ASL Wong

Genome editing; Protein engineering; Synthetic biology; Combinatorial genetics; Drug target discovery; Disease biology

Dr JWH Wong

Cancer genomics; Proteomics and bioinformatics

Professor ZJ Zhou

Stem cell self-renewal and differentiation in development; Aging and cancer

  

3. Genomics and Biomedical Data Sciences

Technological advances in genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, imaging, and access to a wide variety of digital health data in electronic health records, enable a big data approach to scientific discovery and digital health innovation. Our School has expertise in developing and applying state-of-the-art statistical and computational methods to harness these big data to address a variety of biomedical problems. Key research areas include discovery of mutational signatures in cancer genomes, discovery of rare stem cell populations in cancers using single cell transcriptomic data, identification of causal mutations and the developmental origin of rare diseases, discovery of how altered gut microbiome can impact health, the use of metabolomics and proteomics technologies to identify novel disease biomarkers, and use of wearable devices, smartphones and artificial intelligence in modern digital healthcare.

Supervisor(s) Research Interest

Professor D Chan

Skeletal and matrix biology; Animal models of diseases; Stem cells and regeneration

Dr JWK Ho

Bioinformatics; Artificial intelligence; Medical big data; Digital health technology; Metagenomics; Single cell genomics

Dr YH Huang

Bioinformatics; Single-cell genomics; Statistical modelling

Dr A Javed

Multi-omics analysis of cancers and rare diseases; Computational biology

Dr YQ Song

Human genetics; Bioinformatics and functional genomics

Dr JWH Wong

Cancer genomics; Proteomics and bioinformatics

  

4. Stem cell, molecular and developmental genetics

Research in developmental biology provides invaluable insights into the molecular events that underlie the diverse cellular changes as tissues and organs are formed during embryogenesis. However, as tissues and organs are formed from a single totipotent stem cell, namely the fertilized zygote, that undergoes well-defined cell divisions and progressive lineage differentiation to specific cell types in the body, it is tightly linked to stem cell biology. Further, it also links to the study of rare diseases where mutations in specific genes can result in developmental defects. Thus, this research area of the School in stem cell biology, developmental biology and functional genetics work hand in hand to resolve complex questions in understanding disease mechanism, control of stem cell differentiation and cell function, with the opportunity to provide therapeutic interventions through drug discoveries and application of regenerative medicine. Specific areas of focus include musculoskeletal, neurological, metabolic, and ageing defects.

Supervisor(s) Research Interest

Professor D Chan

Skeletal and matrix biology; Animal models of diseases; Stem cells and regeneration

Dr MCH Cheung

Neural development; Modelling neurological diseases and melanoma 

Dr B Gao

Cell signaling in development and disease; Genetic and molecular basis of skeletal disorders 

Professor JD Huang

Synthetic biology; Vaccines for infectious diseases and cancers; Biological pattern formation 

Dr R Jauch

Protein and stem cell engineering 

Dr SC Kwon

RNA biology and genome engineering 

Dr HGS Ling

Metabolic reprogramming of T cells in chronic inflammatory diseases 

Professor PT Liu

Stem cells; Genetics and genomics; Developmental Biology; Hematopoiesis and immune cell functions; Cancer cell killers; Cell-based therapies 

Dr YQ Song

Human genetics; Bioinformatics and functional genomics 

Dr JSC Ti

Employing fluorescence and electron microscopy to dissect the function of microtubules and microtubule-associated proteins 

Dr KM Yao

Secreted PDZD2 as novel regulator of Hedgehog signaling; FOXM1 and regulation of stem cell function

Dr CH Yu

Cell biology of adhesion and cytoskeleton regulations; Fluorescence microscopy; Mechanobiology; Podosomes and cancer invadopodia

Professor ZJ Zhou

Stem cell self-renewal and differentiation in development; Aging and cancer

  

5. Stem Cell, Molecular and Developmental Genetics

A transdisciplinary understanding of biomolecule function at the atomic level provides insights into the molecular biology underlying all of life and medicine. We are now moving from observations of the structure and dynamics of molecular complexes and machines (structural biology), towards perturbing these systems (chemical biology), through to re-engineering biomolecules by both rational design and evolution (synthetic biology). Our School has deep expertise in these areas - integrating structural biology with functional proteomics, nucleic acid evolution with translational technology, and artificial biological circuits with genome engineering. Such approaches are allowing new ways to better understand biology and medicine, and allow translational angles across therapeutics, diagnostics and bioengineering.

Supervisor(s) Research Interest

Dr CYS Chung

Chemical biology; Proteomics; Mass spectrometry; Molecular imaging; Medicinal chemistry 

Professor Q Hao

Structural biology; Synchrotron radiation methods; Epigenetic regulators 

Professor JD Huang

Synthetic biology; Vaccines for infectious diseases and cancers; Biological pattern formation 

Dr R Jauch

Protein and stem cell engineering 

Dr CM Qian

Epigenetics and genome instability; Structural biology 

Professor R Sun

Advance virology and development biology by integrating quantitative, structural, genomic, proteomic and immunological approaches 

Professor JA Tanner

Nucleic acid nanotechnology and chemical biology 

Dr ASL Wong

Genome editing; Protein engineering; Synthetic biology; Combinatorial genetics; Drug target discovery; Disease biology 

Dr JWH Wong

Cancer genomics; Proteomics and bioinformatics

  

Next Step?

For more information or to express interest to join the research areas, please email the supervisor or the specified contact point in the description. Interested candidates are advised to enclose with your email:

  1. your CV,
  2. a brief description of your research interest and experience, and
  3. two reference letters (not required for HKUMed UG students seeking MRes[Med]/URIS projects).

Research postgraduate studies enquiries specific to the department/school’s research should be directed to the Chairman of the Departmental Research Postgraduate Committee:

Dr RCC Chang
rccchang@hku.hk

Information on the research programme, funding support and admission documentations could be referenced online at the Research Postgraduate Admissions website.

General admission enquiries should be directed to rpgmed@hku.hk.

Our Students

Victor Gray

Place of Origin: France
Progress: PhD Year 2
Primary supervisor: Dr HGS Ling

"Your supervisor will be the person from whom you may seek the most support, so it’s important to build a strong foundation early on". 

As a budding researcher and academic, Victor Gray believes in the importance of developing a good relationship with one’s supervisor, as they often have much wisdom to impart on how to deal with stress and future planning, "They have been through what you are currently going through, so they naturally have lots of advice to give you”. 

Coming from the UK with an interest in immunology, he looked forward to fine-tuning his research skills under Dr Ling Guang Sheng; “She is someone who has shown expertise in the field for a number of years back in my home country, so I'm very excited to be a part of this transition of immunology research at HKUMed as our team expands”. 

Victor now hopes to study in greater detail how various environmental conditions affect the metabolic properties of immune cells, and identify metabolic pathways which may be targeted in order to boost immune responses; "This is especially relevant in the context of cancer and chronic viral infections, where the metabolic properties of immune cells play a crucial role in the outcome of these conditions”.

January 2021

Jessie Ho

Place of Origin: Hong Kong
Progress: PhD Year 2
Supervisor: Dr R Jauch

“As someone who is easily stressed and anxious, pursuing my hobbies and passions outside of the lab have been critical in helping me reduce my stress to a manageable level”

Living up to the mantra of ‘work-life balance’, Jessie Ho, a Year 2 PhD student, remained active in a plethora of hobbies before the pandemic, “I am an avid tennis player; I began playing Quidditch with Hongkong Hydras; I practiced and performed with my band and the Lap-Chee Acapella Team at the Residential Colleges; I also made sure that Saturday nights and Sunday mornings were reserved for spending time with my family.”

Though many postgraduate students often find themselves buried in work, Jessie believes in the importance of healthily managing stress, especially when pursuing academia. “There have been times where I have felt overwhelmed, which can translate into technical errors and lead to unusable data, so these hobbies have been critical in helping me reduce my stress to a manageable level.” This is all the more important, given that “high-quality research takes time to plan and execute”, Jessie added.

“I do not believe having research completely consume one’s life...that is why I try to make an effort to relax and enjoy my hobbies, and most importantly spend time with the people I care about.”

December 2020

Maja Højvang Sørensen

Place of Origin: Denmark
Progress: PhD Year 3
Supervisor: Dr RCC Chang

"The drive here in Hong Kong is so different…everything works at a much faster pace here compared to back home”.

For Maja Højvang, a second year PhD student from Denmark, the initial culture shock of working in Hong Kong left an impactful impression, "It's faster, everything just works so much faster research-wise - you produce so many more results daily, compared to back home…but also the research is quite interesting here".

Luckily, she's taken a liking to the fast-paced culture here as it pushes advancement in her current research. She hopes that her work could take her one step closer into achieving her goal of improving life quality for patients with Parkinson's Disease. "It always motivates me if I can make life a bit better or easier for other people. So, if we could help slow down a degenerative disease and its spread in the brain…that would make me feel better about the value of my work".

June 2020

Zurn Chaiyaporn Kuwentrai

Place of Origin: Thailand
Progress: PhD Year 3
Supervisor: Professor JD Huang

“…The way I look at my PhD, it's a stepping stone that will build up my resume but also my research experience…”

For Zurn Kuwentrai, a first-year PhD student at the School of Biomedical Sciences from Thailand, his postgraduate studies at HKU marks his first foray into the world of academia which is full of challenges but also many new opportunities. “I have had very little research experience [so] my PhD research is very new to me…essentially I'm learning everything in one go during my first year."

Zurn also values being able to pursue his PhD on his own terms, without the pressures of preconceived expectations, “My goals are slightly different from others; I don’t feel the absolute need to publish, or apply to be a Principle Investigator in the future. I just want to learn as much as I can and the experience here itself is…what my goal is, and I'm already getting it every single day I walk into the lab."

As for what’s next in store for Zurn, he hopes his focus on mRNA therapeutics will allow greater accessibility to treatment options for patients, “Less developed countries find it very difficult to afford protein therapies, so we are currently developing ways to make our mRNA therapies equally good so that one day, it can be in the market as well."

June 2020

Daisy Tan

Place of Origin: Philippines
Progress: PhD Year 1
Supervisor: Dr R Jauch

“We all find it quite funny hearing each other’s stories from our respective home countries – something like having to buy your own reagents and distilled water like I did for my experiments is unheard of to my lab mates!”

Daisy Tan, an MPhil student from the Philippines, reckons that working in a diverse group of passionate researchers at her lab has been an asset to her research experience here, not only because they get to trade stories and anecdotes, but also because there’s such diversity in their skillsets too.

“We have individual meetings with each other to catch up on our respective projects, so even though we’re working on separate tasks, we can always seek the individual expertise of one another […] part of the culture here is to troubleshoot together, and learn from your fellow lab mate who may have stronger foundations in other areas of academia; take molecular biology for example, that’s something I only learnt from them after coming here”.

November 2019

Smaranda Badea

Place of Origin: Romania
Progress: PhD Year 4
Supervisor: Professor JD Huang

Romanian-born Smaranda Badea spends the bulk of her time at the Faculty Core Facility, where she taps into the multi-million dollar advanced imaging and cellsorting technologies for her research.

Smara, who will soon be graduating with a PhD degree in Neuroscience, has been investigating the way our body responds to injuries in the nervous system.

“Our nervous system tends to react very strongly when it is damaged by injury. What we can do is try to modify how it responds, using particular pathways to calm it down, so that it will prioritise repair over the typical response that would sustain the damage,” says Smara, who hopes the findings from her research might be applied to treating other conditions such as multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.

July 2019