Research Projects
Investigating the Role and Mechanism of Upregulation of Δ42PD-1+ T Cells in Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☒ MRes[Med] ☒ URIS

Checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy has transformed cancer treatment over the past decade, yet it remains unclear why the majority of patients fail to respond to the therapy. Previously, we found that hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) developed a distinct population of αβ T cells that express the isoformic PD-1, namely Δ42PD-1, on their T cells including cytotoxic T lymphocytes. These Δ42PD-1+ T cells were preferentially tumour-infiltrating and correlated inversely with, but functionally more exhausted than, PD-1+ T cells.  However, the role and mechanism of the upregulation of Δ42PD-1+ T cells remain elusive.

Dr ZW Tan, Department of Microbiology

Dr Tan's research interest is focused on tumour immunotherapy; the concept of harnessing the immune system to attack and eradicate tumours. Tumour cells modify internal proteins in different ways to healthy cells, a process fundamental to a cell becoming cancerous. These abnormal modifications can be recognised by T cells and his research is to develop immunotherapeutic for eliciting anti-tumour cytotoxic T cell immunity, such as tumour antigen vaccine and oncolytic virotherapy. Another focus of his research is studying the mechanisms which are exploited within the tumor microenvironment (TME) to suppress immune responses. Tumoural immune suppression is a major hurdle to permitting effective tumour immunotherapy. His current study is developing strategies to improve anti-tumour responses by targeting novel immunosuppressive molecules such as immune checkpoint receptors, or immunosuppressive cells, with a particular focus on myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC).


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.