Research Projects
Exploiting Stemness as A Cancer Cell Vulnerability Using Hepatocellular Carcinoma as a Model System

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☒ MRes[Med] ☒ URIS

Tumours are composed of non-homogeneous cell populations exhibiting varying degrees of genetic and functional heterogeneity. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are capable of sustaining tumours by manipulating genetic and non-genetic factors to metastasize, resist treatment, and maintain the tumour microenvironment. Understanding the key traits and mechanisms of CSC survival provides opportunities to improve patient outcomes via improved prognostic models and therapeutics. We and others have gathered ample evidence to show that tumour growth of the locally prevalent cancer type Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) is also fueled by CSCs. Our past research on liver cancer stemness has made several novel and important findings with some of the work resulting in successful patent applications and commercial licenses. These new exciting findings provoke us to propose a multi-disciplinary team to study how stemness can be exploited as a cancer cell vulnerability. Efforts are directed at conducting both basic and pre-clinical studies using a combination of molecular, cellular, biochemical, genetics, and disease modelling approaches. New knowledge gained from the findings of this study will define new opportunities for innovative treatments of HCC targeted at the important liver CSC subset, which is believed to represent the root of cancer.

Multiple MPhil and PhD student positions currently available.

Prof SKY Ma, School of Biomedical Sciences

Professor Stephanie Ma's research group in the School of Biomedical Sciences, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong has a long-standing interest in identifying novel stemness vulnerabilities in cancer using the Asian prevalent cancer type hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) as a model system. We believe that targeting cancer stem cells is a new venture for precision medicine in oncology. Our current goals are to establish new molecular signatures and markers for predicting the occurrence, recurrence, and drug resistance, to improve patient stratification, and identify actionable targets directed at cancer stemness for precision medicine.

Laboratory Homepage

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.