Research Projects
Contribution of Late Permian C1 coal chamosite to lung cancer epidemic in Xuan Wei inferred by K-rasLA1 mice model

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☒ MRes[Med] ☒ URIS

The carcinogenicity of household coal smoke was first noted in the Chinese county of Xuan Wei, which has the highest women lung cancer mortality in China. Collaboration between epidemiologists and coal geologists has pinpointed the Late Permian C1 coal as the biggest suspect of the lung cancer epidemic in Xuanwei, China. To further confirm the causal effects between C1 coal and lung cancer prevalence, the following three challenging questions have to be resolved:

1) How do we eliminate the interference of intimately mixed quartz after decomposition to determine the role of chamosite? 2) As a clay mineral, chamosite is sensitive to thermal treatment, likely undergos phase change or decrystallization during heating; then which forms of chamosite has the strongest carcinogenicity among the intricate emission mixtures from coal combustion? 3) Does chamosite cause iron overload in mitochondria, and can mitochondria-targeted iron chelation, by deferiprone (DFP), slow down or even terminate the tumour progression?

The K-rasLA1 mouse model will be applied to the current project to address the above three questions. The results of our pilot study indicate that the orally administered iron chelator can effectively inhibit the inflammatory reaction of lung caused by chamosite. Our findings will contribute not only to the prevention of lung cancer in Xuan Wei, but also to the mechanistic understanding of lung cancer which could benefit the prevention and control of lung cancer in China and the world.

Dr LW Tian, School of Public Health

Dr Linwei Tian is an environmental epidemiologist with a focus on air pollution and health. He has been conducting field epidemiology and laboratory work on indoor air pollution and lung cancer in Xuan Wei County, which has the highest lung cancer rates among women in China. Identifying the carcinogenic agents in coal and its emissions would affect local intervention policies and gain insights into the carcinogenesis mechanisms.

Meanwhile, Dr Tian gains a strong research interest in exploring the potential role of food contamination by biogenic siliceous needles in the endemic cancer of esophagus in China. The geographic patterns of esophagus cancer endemics offers a unique natural experiment in assessing environmental carcinogenesis. Based on the previous evidence on glass (silica fiber) roots of cancer, Dr. Tian hypothesizes wheat bract-derived glass fibers and needle-shaped diatoms in guts of trash fish as a major causative factor of esophagus cancer endemic in North China and southern China, respectively.

Urbanized Hong Kong provides another unique setting to study air pollution and health. Its high density of people and vehicles, high-rise buildings, a rich resource of accessible environmental measurement and healthcare data, and various air pollution control policies offers a great opportunity for valuable environmental epidemiology. Compared with static data, time series data contain far more information at our disposal for the inference of causality. Dr. Tian has been trying to examine the earlier ambiguity and enhance causal inference of the environment-health associations by contrasting the traditional time series regression models with the recent methods of causal discovery from big data.

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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.