Research Projects
The use of small molecules in modulating human endometrial receptivity and embryo implantation (GRF)

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☒ MRes[Med] ☒ URIS

Embryo implantation marks the beginning of direct interaction between fetus and mother. However, the underlying mechanism that regulates this biological process is not well defined. In fact, about 15% of couples have difficulty conceiving and need to seek fertility treatment. However, even if good-quality embryos are transferred, about 75% of women fail to conceive or give birth, partly due to implantation failure. It is believed that the maternal reproductive tract changes its microenvironment by secreting various factors or macromolecules and expressing adhesion molecules or surface receptors to provide the best conditions for embryo implantation and maintenance of pregnancy. Currently, no known molecules/compounds can increase the embryo implantation rate.

Small molecules are chemical compounds with a therapeutic activity that can easily bind to or enter cells. Recently, we established a high-throughput screening method by using a spheroid-endometrial co-culture assay with receptive and non-receptive human endometrial epithelial cells and screened more than 1000 small molecules and identified over 100 small molecules that significantly suppress or stimulate spheroid attachment onto human endometrial Ishikawa cells. We hypothesized that the LOPAC modulates could be used to suppress and/or stimulate spheroid (embryo surrogate) attachment through modulating endometrial receptivity in vitro and in vivo.

We will test our hypothesis with the following objectives: (1) The use of receptive and non-receptive endometrial epithelial cells to validate putative small molecules that modulate endometrial receptivity, (2) Investigate the synergistic effect of the small molecules on endometrial epithelial and stromal cell functions, and (3) Perform comparative proteomic and metabolomics analysis of endometrial protein expression and secretion: in vitro and in vivo studies. Results from this study will provide essential information on the selected small molecules in regulating the implantation process, delineating the underlying signaling mechanism modifying the expression of membrane protein(s) and/or secretome profiles for embryo attachment, and validate the potential pre-clinical application of these small molecules using in vivo mouse models.

Professor CKF Lee, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Professor Lee got his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and trained in postdoctoral training at Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA. He joined the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at The University of Hong Kong as a Research Assistant Professor in 1998 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2008. He was Past-President of the Hong Kong Society for Reproductive Medicine, and the Hong Kong Society of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Reproduction. He has published more than 90 original articles in international journals with an H index of 32 (total citation >3000). His students have obtained many international and local awards including ‘The Best Poster Award of Society for the Study of Reproduction (SSR) – Southeast Asia Region’.

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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.