Other Strategic Research Theme/Emerging Strategic Research Themes

Members of the Faculty also actively participate in the following Strategic Research Themes/Emerging Strategic Research Themes of the University.

Biomedical Engineering and Nanotechnology

The rapidly evolving fields of biomedical engineering and nanotechnology illustrate explicitly the value of cross-disciplinary research. Engineering techniques are enabling medical doctors and researchers to explore health and diseases in new and more precise ways, while medical needs are opening up new directions for engineering know-how.

Researchers in the Faculties of Medicine and Engineering have become internationally competitive in several areas, such as biomedical imaging, biomaterials, tissue engineering, micro-fluidic systems, and nanomechanics. Now, they will harness that expertise to focus on three key areas:

  • Biomedical imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging, biophotonics, ultrasound, EEG, bioinformatics and neural engineering.
  • Bio-nanomaterials and bio-nanomechanics, which are being applied in such areas as prosthetic devices, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
  • Biomedical devices, such as medical robotics, microfluidics, and computer-brain interface.

Drug

HKU is becoming a centre of innovation in drug discovery, particularly drugs derived from metal compounds and natural products in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Scholars in chemistry, medicine and biology are collaborating to develop potential patentable therapies for human diseases and have identified several priorities:

  • Anti-cancer drugs remain a primary target and they are planning to test their leads on cell- and animal-based models, and identify potential new drug leads.
  • Pharmacologists are working on the design or modification of these and other leads, and will suggest how they can be delivered to the target.
  • Biological mass spectrometry facilities are being strengthened to support work to profile proteins and metabolites and study the interactions between proteins and drugs.
  • Greater emphasis is also being placed on developing natural products from TCM and inorganic medicines – an area where HKU, with its deep understanding of Western and Chinese medical traditions, and its strength in scientific investigations, has potential to be a world leading centre.

Their work will help to advance their objectives of advancing drug research at HKU and contributing to the cure of human diseases through interdisciplinary drug research involving the basic sciences and medicine.

Food (Emerging Strategic Research Theme)

Researchers from the Faculties of Science, Medicine, Social Sciences and Engineering are combining forces to apply a wide variety of scientific approaches to enhance food safety and quality, explain the health benefits of certain food components, link scientific and medical research on food, and identify food contaminants and toxins that are potentially harmful to human health.

Their work has been organised into three areas. The first concerns food safety, food-related disease and biomonitoring. Scientists are investigating bacterial food poisoning and the toxicity levels of certain foods, and developing strategies to address these issues.

The second area concerns food security and bioactive food components. Research here is focused on identifying novel molecular pathways in plants and using these to develop strategies for optimising food production, and applying biological evaluation to figure out potential food components with health benefits and develop healthy foods.

The third area of research will investigate food policy and how food is regulated and monitored.

Genomics

Genomics research has been entrenched at HKU for well over a decade and our scientists have participated in major initiatives to expand knowledge in this field, including the International HapMap Project, genomewide association studies (GWAS) and whole-exome sequencing studies (WESS).

To take our work further, scientists from the Faculties of Medicine, Science and Engineering are collaborating in the new and expanded fields including cancer genomics, in particular locally prevalent cancers, such as nasopharyngeal and hepatocellular carcinomas, as well as breast, lung, esophageal and colorectal cancers; and pharmacogenetics and personalised medicine using genomic information to predict differential responses and adverse reactions to drugs, and individual differences in disease risks and outcomes.

Work will also continue in another area of considerable strength, viral and microbial genomics and evolution, which was recently extended to include bacteria with the development of a Next-Generation Sequencing platform for complete bacterial genome sequencing. The team is also evaluating the impact of drugs and other extraneous influences on gut and environmental microbiomes.

Integrative Biology (Emerging Strategic Research Theme)

The Integrative Biology Emerging initiative incorporates traditional and new fields in science to address fundamental biological and biomedical questions. Chemistry, physics and biology are married with genomics, proteomics, genetics and synthetic biology – as well as engineering – to investigate two new and evolving fields: structural and chemical biology, and synthetic biology.

Structural and chemical biology draws on the successes of genome sequencing to take our understanding of one-dimensional DNA sequencing to the next step. It aims to unravel molecular functions and the progression of disease, and to use these findings to develop drugs that target diseases at the molecular level.

Synthetic biology is about the design and construction of new biological parts and new biologically based systems or devices that do not exist in the natural world. This has the potential to provide solutions in such areas as medicine, energy and the environment.

HKU scientists are focusing on genome design and construction. They are currently working to redesign and synthesise the first eukaryotic genome (a yeast genome) to help understand genome design principles, and are re-engineering the Salmonella genome for a bacterial treatment for cancer.

Neuroscience

Neuroscience offers great potential for understanding the brain and nervous system, and many other aspects of human brain processes and the respective behavioural outcomes.

HKU has a strong base that includes a comprehensive spectrum of neuroscience research across the human lifespan; excellent neuroimaging, engineering and genomic research platforms; State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Members of the team have already achieved international recognition in such areas of neuroscience research as retinal detachments, learning and memory, social cognitive and affective processes, brain development and neuroregenerati, and dementia.

The seven areas of research focus in Neuroscience are:

  • Basic neuroscience
  • Vision
  • Engineering and neuroimaging
  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Social affective neuroscience
  • Clinical neuroscience
  • Communication and education

Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (Emerging Strategic Research Theme)

There are several strategic areas of excellence in stem cell research, such as cell-based heart regeneration, basic and clinical stem cell biology, orthopaedic engineering, blood and cancer stem cells, stem cell immunology and bio-artificial tissue engineering. HKU is one of four major stem cell centres in China, and arguably the most international, with ongoing collaborative projects or programmes involving such centres as Johns Hopkins University, Stanford, Harvard, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the University of Edinburgh.

With this ground laid, researchers now plan to raise the profile and level of activity of stem cell research at HKU. An in-house Good Manufacturing Practice facility has been established with several cell-based clinical trials in the pipeline. A range of in vitro diagnostic tools developed at HKU is also being commercialised for industrial applications. The immediate focus is on enhancing capability and quality, rather than just quantity, to become a key stem cell research centre in the region and the world.

Related major work at the University includes the Cell-based Heart Regeneration Theme-based Research Scheme project.