The Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS), launched in 2010 by the Research Grants Council, aims to focus academic research efforts of the UGC-funded universities on themes of strategic importance to the long-term development of Hong Kong, namely Promoting Good Health, Developing a Sustainable Environment, Enhancing Hong Kong's Strategic Position as a Regional and International Business Centre and Advancing Emerging Research and Innovations Important to Hong Kong. In the eight rounds of TRS, HKU has been awarded 17 of the 40 funded projects as coordinating university, and HKU researchers are participating in a further 20 coordinated by other local universities.

Funded Projects Coordinated by HKU

Promoting Good Health

Cell-based Heart Regeneration

This project aims to address major gaps in using human pluripotent stem cells to bioengineer human heart tissues for translating into cell-based therapies for heart diseases and other applications. Significant advances in the field are anticipated, including the development of bio-artificial engineered human heart tissue constructs that are functionally viable, immunocompatible and durable after transplantation to achieve long-lasting beneficial outcomes.

Project Coordinator: Professor R.A. Li, Dr Li Dak-Sum Research Centre (ronaldli@hku.hk)

Personalized Medicine for Cardiovascular Diseases: From Genomic Testing and Biomarkers to Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Platform

Expertise and strength in clinical and genetic research—based on the team’s existing large clinic and population-based databases, biomarker discovery and development, and human stem cell platform—is combined in this project to develop a novel approach to “Personalized Medicine” for diagnosing and treating dyslipidemia, a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases in the local Chinese population.

Project Coordinator: Professor H.F. Tse, Department of Medicine (hftse@hku.hk)

Functional Analyses of How Genomic Variation Affects Personal Risk for Degenerative Skeletal Disorders

This project aims to define the functional attributes of the genetic factors associated with intervertebral disc disease (IDD) and address how genomic variation contributes to the risk, onset, severity and progression of the disease. Expected long-term applications include prediction of total personal risk for IDD that will improve prevention and management of the disease, and design of improved cell-based therapies to protect healthy discs from degeneration and retard or reverse the degenerative process.

Project Coordinator: Professor K.S.E. Cheah, School of Biomedical Sciences (hrmbdkc@hku.hk)

Genetics and Functional Genomics of Neural Crest Stem Cells and Associated Disease: Hirschsprung Disease

Hirschsprung disease (HSCR) is a birth defect that leads to neonatal intestinal obstruction. This project aims to gain new understanding of the biology of HSCR for more accurate diagnosis and better risk prediction. The team aims to discover new disease-associated genes, test whether these genes cause HSCR, test how these genetic changes cause disease and clinical diversity in mouse models, and correlate laboratory findings with patient databases for clinical validation.

Project Coordinator: Professor P.K.H. Tam, Department of Surgery (paultam@hku.hk)

Viral, Host and Environmental Determinants of Influenza Virus Transmission and Pathogenesis

Influenza is a major threat to global public health. Pandemic influenza can spread worldwide within weeks. This project aims to address two major research questions: (i) the biological determinants of influenza virus transmission from animals-to-humans and from humans-to-humans; and (ii) the immunological mechanisms protecting from or contributing to severe influenza disease.

Project Coordinator: Professor J.S.M. Peiris, School of Public Health (malik@hku.hk)

Molecular Basis for Interspecies Transmission and Pathogenesis of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, like other emerging infectious agents, is a global health threat. This project seeks to identify the evolutionary paths leading to the emergence of MERS and the mechanisms of interspecies transmission, to delineate the molecular mechanisms by which the MERS coronavirus evades innate immunity, and to characterise its pulmonary and extrapulmonary replication and pathogenesis.

Project Coordinator: Professor P.C.Y. Woo, Department of Microbiology (pcywoo@hkucc.hku.hk)

Gastric Cancer Genomics and Beyond - Moving from Patient Samples to 3D Organoid Cultures for Integrative Genomics Analysis, Drug Sensitivity Assays, Cell Biological Studies and Animal Models

Gastric cancer (GC) is the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide. The team seeks to understand how each unique combination of GC driver gene alteration contributes to cancer development and their reliance on survival pathways that could translate into therapeutic opportunities. This study is expected to accelerate therapeutic development of GC through deep biological insights on combination driver alterations, enabling genome-guided patient stratification and drug repositioning, identifying new driver genes and pathways for new drug development.

Project Coordinator: Professor S.Y. Leung, Department of Pathology (suetyi@hku.hk)

Understanding Cancer Stemness in Liver Cancer - From Regulation to Translational Applications

In liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, HCC), like other cancers, a subset of cancer cells referred to as cancer stem cells (CSCs) is capable of self-renewal and maintaining tumor propagation. This project aims to identify the molecular pathways common to the different CSC subpopulations and examine how these pathways may regulate CSCs, hence providing targets for selective blocking of CSC functions. The team also aims to translate the high-quality research findings from this project into pre-clinical trials to target liver CSCs for novel HCC treatments.

Project Coordinator: Professor I.O.L. Ng, Department of Pathology (iolng@hku.hk)

Translational Studies for Elucidating the Tumor Heterogeneity and Molecular Evolution in Metastatic Gastrointestinal Tract Cancers for Personalized Medicine

Gastrointestinal tract cancers account for about 22% of cancer deaths in Hong Kong. The studies in this project, focusing on esophageal cancer, will use integrative and novel approaches aimed at elucidating key drivers for tumor metastasis, heterogeneity, and chemoresistance. This will enable the translation of the findings into the clinic to improve diagnosis and patient stratification and to identify actionable targets for precision medicine.

Project Coordinator: Professor M.L. Lung, Department of Clinical Oncology (mlilung@hku.hk)

Potentiating Host Immunity for HIV-1 Functional Cure

This project aims to develop a combination immunotherapy that increases the immunity of patients against HIV-1 to achieve a functional cure, defined as a state of suppressed viremia to an undetectable level for a prolonged period without receiving combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). The results are also expected to enrich knowledge on mechanisms of immune protection and reduce cART toxicity and resistance.

Project Coordinator: Professor Z. Chen, AIDS Institute, Department of Microbiology (zchenai@hku.hk)

Developing a Sustainable Environment

Challenges in Organic Photo-Voltaics and Light Emitting Diodes—A Concerted Multi-Disciplinary and Multi-Institutional Effort

This project aims to address energy issues for the development of a sustainable environment. It focuses on organic photovoltaics (OPVs) for solar energy conversion to generate alternative sources of clean renewable energy, and organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), which are recognized as a viable candidate for developing and implementing a more efficient solid-state lighting system.

Project Coordinator: Professor V.W.W. Yam, Department of Chemistry (wwyam@hku.hk)

Sustainable Lighting Technology: From Devices to Systems

With continuous development of light emitting diode (LED) devices, LED application in public lighting is still at a bottleneck that lies in the “system” aspects, e.g. short product lifetime and failure to meet luminous flux output. This project proposes a sustainable lighting technology that involves the search for a novel “general LED system theory for non-identical LED devices” which can lead to new LED systems with high efficiency, luminous efficacy, long lifetime and high percentage of recyclable materials.

Project Coordinator: Professor S.Y.R. Hui, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (ronhui@eee.hku.hk)

Sustainable Power Delivery Structures for High Renewables

This project addresses new developments in power control devices and system automation, including the necessary communications, to ensure the required quality in power supply for frequency, voltages and security are achieved despite the variable nature of renewable power. It also addresses the need to harness the potential for more use of energy storage and demand management mechanisms to implement new ways to achieve balancing and stability in a flexible multi-layer structure; and how to analyse, control and protect large complex cyber-physical networks.

Project Coordinator: Professor D.J. Hill, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (dhill@eee.hku.hk)

Enhanced Separation and Sludge Refinery for Wastewater Treatment - Solving the Nexus of Pollution Control and Resource Recovery in Mega Cities

In this project, novel technologies will be developed for advanced wastewater treatment and food waste processing, such as Chemically-enhanced Membrane Filtration (CeMF), side-stream Acidogenic sludge and food waste Co-Fermentation (sACF), and treatment of the waste sludge by thermal Sludge Hydrolysis followed by fungal Fermentation and Refinery (SHFR). The project seeks to fundamentally transform wastewater treatment from an end-of-the-pipe purification to a resource-mining practice, and achieve more sustainable water pollution control, resource recovery and sludge minimisation.

Project Coordinator: Professor X.Y. Li, Department of Civil Engineering (xlia@hkucc.hku.hk)

Enhancing Hong Kong's Strategic Position as a Regional and International Business Centre

Enhancing Hong Kong’s Future as a Leading International Financial Centre

This project seeks to provide independent academic analysis of Hong Kong’s role as an international financial centre, both to enhance competitiveness and reduce the risk of crisis, encompassing four central questions on regulation, corporate governance, Mainland liberalisation and international competitiveness. Major outputs include reports addressing the mandate of Basic Law Article 109 and the development of a general framework/theory to understand financial centre evolution and development.

Project Coordinator: Professor D.W. Arner, Department of Law (dwarner@hku.hk)

Advancing Emerging Research and Innovations Important to Hong Kong

Learning and Assessment for Digital Citizenship

This project aims to develop a research programme to establish the key dimensions and indicators, as well as assessment instruments, for the establishment of developmental milestones for digital citizenship from childhood to young adulthood (age 7 to 22); develop an online role play simulation game platform for fostering and assessing digital literacy and collaborative problem-solving ability for adolescents and young adults; develop pedagogical theory and design principles for fostering digital citizenship based on massive empirical e-learning and assessment data; and identify the family and school factors that contribute to the development of digital citizenship.

Project Coordinator: Professor N.W.Y. Law, Faculty of Education (nlaw@hku.hk)

Big Data for Smart and Personalized Air Pollution Monitoring and Health Management

With big data technologies, it is possible to collect complex, heterogeneous, high resolution, personalized, and synchronized urban air pollution, human activity, health condition, well-being and behavioural data. The novel big data technologies and analytical approaches developed in this project will create a unique framework for personalized air pollution monitoring and e-health management, easily transferrable to and applicable in other domains and countries.

Project Coordinator: Professor V.O.K. Li, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (vli@eee.hku.hk)

HKU's Participation in Funded Projects Coordinated by Other Local Universities

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