Research Projects
Modelling SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Vascular Immune Organoids

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☒ MRes[Med] ☑ URIS
About the Project

The pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 has been still prevailing. As of August 2021, over 200 million people have been infected, and over 4.2 million people died. The challenge to treat SARS-CoV-2 infection remains the lack of precise systems to model the infection. Cytokine storm syndrome and vasculitis are two major causes of SARS-CoV-2-mediated death. Although the advance in organoid technology is promising in modelling the infection in the lung, intestine, kidney, and pancreas,  the lack of both immune cells and vasculature limits the potential of organoids. We, The Blood Engineering Lab (BEL) at the University of Hong Kong, investigates the novel platform to model SARS-CoV-2 infection. We propose that vascular immune organoids overcome the limitation in modelling SARS-CoV-2 infection. We have established vascular immune organoids from human pluripotent stem cells. The vascular immune organoids encompass both innate immune cells such as macrophages, natural killer cells, and vascular endothelial cells. A PhD student will be engaged in the generation of vascular immune organoids. S/he will examine molecular features of cytokine storm syndrome and vasculitis in flow cytometry and gene expression profile upon the infection of SARS-CoV-2. Then s/he will employ the vascular immune organoids to model inflammatory damages in heterologous organoids independently generated from human pluripotent stem cells. The expected result will be that the presence of vascular and immune cells will recapitulate the inflammatory damages in heterologous organoids including the lung, intestine, kidney, and pancreas. The system will lead to the chemical screening of drugs that ameliorate inflammatory damages by SARS-CoV-2 infection. A PhD student is expected to learn stem cell culture, organoid formation, gene expression profile, drug screening, cytokine array, and flow cytometry.

About the Supervisor

Dr RR Sugimura, School of Biomedical Sciences

Dr Rio Sugimura received his M.D. from Osaka University, Japan, in 2008, and his Ph.D. in Stem Cells and Regeneration from the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, USA, in 2012. He has been trained at world-leading institutes, including Harvard Medical School and Kyoto University. He is an Assistant Professor in the School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Hong Kong. Dr Sugimura is a full faculty member of the Stem Cells & Regeneration Section in F1000Prime, a member of American Association of Immunologists (AAI), American Society of Hematology (ASH), Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), Association for Cancer Immunotherapy (CIMT), Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), International Society of Experimental Hematology (ISEH), International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS), the North American Vascular Biology Organization (NAVBO), Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC), and a co-founder of the medical branch of Kagakusha-Net. Dr. Sugimura is a recipient of the ASH Scholar Award, March of Dimes, Early Career Grant from Japanese Ministry, Genius Award from Young Hematologist Meeting in Japan, Takeda Science Foundation, iPS Academia Japan Foundation, SMRF Fellowship, Kanehara Memorial Foundation, and Uehara Memorial Foundation. Dr. Sugimura mastered grantsmanship at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Scientific Writing Retreat 2019. Dr Sugimura supervised one postdoctoral fellow, one medical student, three Ph.D. students, two master students, and three undergraduate students.

Dr Sugimura is an accomplished scientist, recognized for his outstanding contributions to the field of haematology and stem cell biology. He is interested in using single-cell barcoding technology to delineate single-cell lineage maps of blood/immune cells in human organoids and exploring druggable targets of anti-cancer immunity. His major contribution includes identification of the crucial cellular metabolisms that regulate blood stem cells (Sugimura, 2012. Cell), and exploitation of the genetic program to specify blood stem cells from human pluripotent stem cells (Sugimura, 2017. Nature). Before joining HKU, Dr Sugimura established platforms of human immune cell-generating organoids (Ohta & Sugimura, 2019. JoVE) and organ-on-a-chip (Sugimura, 2020. Biomed. Microdevices). He has published more than 12 peer-reviewed articles in leading journals, such as Nature, Cell, and Genes & Development, received 1,202 citations (Google Scholar).

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Next Step?

For more information or to express interest for this project, please email the supervisor or the specified contact point in the project 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).

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