Research Projects
The regulatory role of placenta-derived extracellular vesicles on the differentiation and functions of human decidual macrophages

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☒ MRes[Med] ☒ URIS

The placenta is a transient organ essential for providing adequate blood perfusion throughout pregnancy. It is accomplished by placental cells termed extravillous trophoblasts that invade the decidua and remodel the spiral arteries into low-resistance and high-flow vessels. Dysregulation in this process results in a disease known as preeclampsia.

Macrophages are the most abundant immune cell population in the spiral artery adventitia. In early pregnancy, the monocytes from bone marrow migrate into the decidualized endometrium, exposure to the local microenvironment, and differentiate into decidua-specific macrophages. Decidual macrophages help to establish a successful pregnancy by ensuring proper spiral arteries remodeling and conferring immune tolerance to the semi-allogenic fetus. Aberrant levels of decidual macrophages are associated with preeclampsia and fetal loss. In spite of the importance of decidual macrophages in pregnancy, the factors regulating their differentiation remain unclear.

Extracellular vesicles are submicron-sized lipid containers released by cells that play a crucial role in cell-cell communication. It modulates a wide range of biological phenomena by allowing the transport of biomolecules. Normal pregnancy is accompanied by an increasing overall placenta-derived extracellular vesicles (pEV) number in the maternal circulation. This project hypothesized that pEVs interact with the monocytes to polarize the differentiation of monocytes into decidual macrophages, which in turn modulates the spiral arteries remodeling and immunotolerance toward fetal antigen at the feto-maternal interface. The outcome of this project will enhance our understanding of the differentiation and functions of decidual macrophages. In long term, the result of this study will indicate the possible use of pEV markers as a test for early prediction of preeclampsia, and the use of liposome as a specific drug delivery agent for the treatment of placenta-associated complications.

Prof EHY Ng, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

My research interests are assisted reproduction technology, assessment of ovarian reserve, endometrial receptivity, the use of three-dimensional ultrasound, acupuncture in reproduction medicine, and stem cells.
1. Conducting many clinical randomized studies which contribute significantly to the area of reproductive medicine.
2. Conducting clinical studies on the assessment of ovarian reserve which has a significant impact on the ovarian stimulation regimen and the dose of gonadotrophin used
3. Conducting many pioneer studies on the assessment of endometrial vascularity by three-dimensional ultrasound in IVF cycles. This series of studies characterize the role of endometrial vascularity in pregnancy and miscarriage.
4. Conducting clinical randomized studies on the use of acupuncture in assisted reproduction. This is the first double-blind randomized trial on the use of acupuncture in IVF cycles. The published study in Human Reproduction was selected for the press release and was cited many times since publication.  

Collaboration network
1. Collaborating research with centers in mainland China including Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine, Harbin, and Nanfang Medical University, Guangzhou.
2. Establishing and maintaining a research network using individual patient data analysis with other centers in Netherland, the UK, Australia, and Finland
3. Member of the Advisory Board of National Clinical Trial Base of Chinese Medicine in First Affiliated Hospital, Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine

Scholars Hub
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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.