Research Projects
Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Cardiovascular and Non-Cardiovascular Complications

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

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

Objective and Significance:

Prof Cheung firmly believes that most of the chronic diseases we see in the community are related to inappropriate diet and inactivity, leading to central obesity and the metabolic syndrome.1 While the clustering of the three 'highs', hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and diabetes are well known, the syndrome is also associated with common diseases such as cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, fatty liver, arthritis, depression and cancer.

The present project aims to discover novel associations between the metabolic syndrome and disease traits. This project is relevant to whichever specialty the student eventually chooses. The project will be tailored to the special interest of the student, but the skills acquired would be relevant and applicable to a broad range of research in the future.

Research Plan and Methodology:

The first stage of the project is for the student to choose an area that interests him or her. This can range from medicine to surgery, from psychiatry to sociology, because obesity and the metabolic syndrome are likely to be related to all of these. The student will conduct an in-Departmenth review of existing knowledge on the topic to enable the formulation of a critical hypothesis and to ensure originality, that this has never been done before. A diligent student will have the opportunity of writing a review as a fruitful outcome of this literature search.

The second stage is to create a working definition of the disease or condition; and identify suitable markers, which can be clinical and biochemical measures. In recent years, many large databases, such as NHANES,2 can be used to study such associations. More relevant to Chinese populations would be CDARS in Hong Kong and the Oxford China Kadoorie Biobank. These are all huge datasets, huge in terms of sample size and the number of variables. There is ample power to detect even small effect sizes. The strategy would therefore be having a discovery sample population and confirming the hypothesis in a separate sample population.

The third stage is confirm that the association is causal, using Mendelian randomization (MR).3 In this analysis, the relationship between genetic markers (usually single nucleotide polymorphisms) of a trait and outcome (such as presence of a disease) is studied. Since the genetic marker is present since birth and is uninfluenced by environment, a causal link can be inferred. In recent years, many large international consortia, such as the UK Biobank, the Global Lipids Genetics Consortium and the Genetic Investigation of Amthropometric Traits consortium, make available genomic data that can be used in MR studies. There are now even online platforms that summarise and update such genetic data to make it easier for researchers to conduct these MR studies.

This should be a fruitful project as meaningful and clinically relevant results are almost certainly going to be generated. This project is suitable for young inquiring minds, especially those who are strongly motivated to make an impact to Medicine.

At the end of the project, the student would be able to:

  1. Search and study the literature independently and critically
  2. Design a simple research project (as opposed to be given an ongoing project)
  3. Compile a large database
  4. Analyse this dataset using big data methodology
  5. Learn to make, test and confirm a hypothesis
  6. Learn to report a study and produce a paper worthy of publication
  7. Have the opportunity to present the findings in an internal, local and international scientific meeting
About the Supervisor

Professor BMY Cheung, Department of Medicine

Professor Bernard Cheung is the Sun Chieh Yeh Heart Foundation Professor in Cardiovascular Therapeutics and heads the Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the Department of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong. He is an Honorary Consultant Physician of Queen Mary Hospital and the Medical Director of the Phase 1 Clinical Trials Centre. He was educated at St Paul's College, St Paul's Co-educational College and Sevenoaks School. He graduated from the University of Cambridge and was a British Heart Foundation Junior Research Fellow at Cambridge before taking up lectureships in Sheffield and Hong Kong. In 2007-2009, he was the Professor in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Birmingham. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Postgraduate Medical Journal. Prof Cheung’s main research interest is in cardiovascular diseases and risk factors, including hypertension and the metabolic syndrome. He has published more than 300 papers and has an h-index of 47.


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

HKUMed MBBS students interested in the Master of Research in Medicine (MRes[Med]) programme may visit the programme website for more information.  

HKUMed UG students interested in the Undergraduate Research Internship Scheme (URIS) may visit the scheme’s website for more information.