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HKU has been awarded as coordinating institution for 35* of the 77 projects funded to date through the Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS), and in a further 35 as a participant in projects coordinated by other local universities.

Launched in 2010 by the Research Grants Council, TRS 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 Understanding Diseases and Disease Prevention, 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. 

* includling one project transferred to HKU post-award

35* Projects Awarded to HKU as Coordinator

Understanding Diseases and Disease Prevention

Developing a Sustainable Environment

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

Advancing Emerging Research and Innovations Important to Hong Kong

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


Details of Funded Projects Coordinated by HKU

Understanding Diseases and Disease Prevention

Investigation of the Immunosuppressive Microenvironment in Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

This project investigates the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment in nasopharyngeal carcinoma using advanced technology including single cell RNA-sequencing and spatial transcriptome sequencing. It aims to identify and characterise key immunosuppressive factors leading to the discovery of new therapeutic targets, and build more effective immunotherapy and combination therapy through clinical trials, bringing new hope to patients with metastasis or recurrence.

Project Coordinator: Professor X. Guan, Department of Clinical Oncology (xyguan@hku.hk)

Dysregulated Host - Gut Microbiota Co-Metabolism in Metabolic Associated Fatty Liver Disease

Metabolic associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) coexists and acts synergistically with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) to increase the risk of adverse clinical outcomes. Recently, the interactions between the host and gut microbiota in terms of metabolism have gained significant attention as a cutting-edge research area. The objective of this study is to shed light on the molecular connections between MAFLD and T2DM, specifically focusing on the perspective of host-gut microbiota interactions. By exploring these interactions, this research aims to establish Hong Kong as a leader in translational research on MAFLD and T2DM.

Project Coordinator: Professor W. Jia, Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy (weijia2@hku.hk)

Characterization of Tumor Microenvironment in Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a cancer of strategic importance in Hong Kong due to its high incidence among Southern Chinese. NPC recurrence and treatment resistance remain major challenges in the clinical management of the disease. Through investigating the NPC tumour microenvironment, this project aims to advance personalised strategies and precision therapies in treatment based on accurate prediction of cancer progression and therapeutic responsiveness, as well as specific targets in individual NPC patients.

Project Coordinator: Professor X. Guan, Department of Clinical Oncology (xyguan@hku.hk

Delineating and Translating the Mechanistic Determinants to Improve the Clinical Management of Liver Cancer

Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, HCC) is one of the most common malignancies worldwide and highly prevalent in the region. Immunotherapeutics and targeted therapy are given to patients with advanced tumours, but often on a 'one-size-fits-all' basis. Mechanistic determinants and biomarkers are much needed to guide treatment to improve patient outcome. This project aims to address this issue through a multi-pronged approach and translate the biomarkers at different clinical disease stages and prospective multi-timepoint follow-up to inform treatment efficacy and the tracking of disease progression and recurrence.

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

Ecology, Molecular Virology and Pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2: From Bedside to Bench and Back

This project aims to gain new insights into the origin and evolution of SARS-CoV-2, define the mechanism of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection in bats and humans, unravel new mechanisms of the virus entry and replication, and identify novel host dependency and restriction factors. It also aims to develop new strategies, methods and leads for early and rapid diagnosis, immunisation with live attenuated and synthetic vaccines, as well as therapeutic treatment targeting either the virus or the host.

Project Coordinator: Professor D. Jin, School of Biomedical Sciences (dyjin@hku.hk

Translating Disease-Mechanism Discoveries to Improve Treatment of Biliary Atresia, an Intractable Newborn Liver Disease

Biliary Atresia (BA) is a devastating inflammatory disease of the bile ducts affecting infants, and it is prevalent among Asians. If untreated, patients will die from liver fibrosis and failure. The root cause for the lack of progress in BA treatment lies in the poor knowledge of its underlying pathogenetic mechanisms. This project aims to improve our understanding of the disease mechanisms using novel, beyond state-of-the-art organoid-based systems, dissect disease heterogeneity through genomics and transcriptomics, and pursue novel therapeutic leads with pre-clinical testing. The findings will inform clinicians on patient stratification and provide evidence for implementing clinical trials of novel therapies.

Project Coordinator: Dr V.C.H. Lui, Department of Surgery (vchlui@hku.hk

Virological, Immunological and Epidemiological Characterization of COVID-19

The COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, is likely to become an endemic infection in humans while the virus genome continues to mutate. This project addresses two key COVID-19 research areas: (i) monitoring genotypic and phenotypic changes in SARS-CoV-2 and (ii) investigating immune responses following natural infection or vaccination. This project will help reveal COVID-19 transmission and pathogenicity, identify vaccination strategies against SARS-CoV-2, and inform healthcare policy.

Project Coordinator: Professor L.M.L. Poon, School of Public Health (llmpoon@hkucc.hku.hk

Towards Personalized and Innovative Treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia

This project aims to translate scientific discoveries into novel therapeutic paradigms that can improve the outcome of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) patients through three distinct programmes: a comprehensive zebrafish programme to model cytogenetically normal AML carrying distinct mutation combinations; testing of the primary AML samples as informed by the zebrafish model in vitro and in vivo for drug sensitivity; and testing their differential gene expression in response to therapeutic agents by single-cell transcriptome and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/Cas9 screen.

Project Coordinator: Professor A.Y.H. Leung, Department of Medicine (ayhleung@hku.hk

Control of Influenza: Individual and Population Immunity

This project aims to address the key knowledge gaps in the control of influenza including (a) the immune correlates of protection against influenza infection or severe diseases; (b) which of these are induced temporarily or permanently by prior natural infection or different types of vaccination; (c) the factors that contribute to increased susceptibility of populations to influenza epidemics; d) how best to deploy new and existing influenza vaccines to reduce the impact of influenza epidemics and pandemics; and (e) other immunological mechanisms relevant to the development and evaluation of new influenza vaccines.

Project Coordinator: Professor B.J. Cowling, School of Public Health (bcowling@hku.hk)

Fighting Disease Recurrence and Promoting Tissue Repair after Liver Transplantation: Translating Basic Discoveries to Clinical Excellence

This project aims to improve the long-term outcomes of liver transplantation by tackling two major recurring diseases – cancer recurrence and hepatitis B virus (HBV) reactivation – in Hong Kong through exploring underlying mechanisms, identifying efficacious biomarkers, and developing potential treatments by integrating basic, translational and clinical research.

Project Coordinator: Professor K. Man, Department of Surgery (kwanman@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)

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

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)

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)

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)

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

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)

Cell-based Heart Regeneration (completed)

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 (completed)

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)

Developing a Sustainable Environment

Towards Carbon Neutrality: Catalysing H2O and CO2 to Green Energy Carriers

This project aims to enable a multi-disciplinary "Green Resource Carriers Hub" in Hong Kong to catapult effective mechanistic and technological developments of green resource carriers, starting with hydrogen and methanol, along the most effective techno-economic pathways. It will deliver on three key a-/re-venues: a) in-depth knowledge of effective structural features on H2 and CO2 conversion pathways, their enhancement by electric- / photo- field potential, and selectivity of final products; b) integrated methodologies and effective catalysts / photo-catalysts for green resource carriers; and c) demonstrator devices (H2O and CO2 electrolysers and photo-reactors) for flexible deployment of the technologies. 

Project Coordinator: Professor Z.X. Guo, Department of Chemistry (zxguo@hku.hk)

Assess Antibiotic Resistome Flows from Pollution Hotspots to Environments and Explore the Control Strategies

This project seeks to address fundamental questions of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in environments, and form the basis of local AR management under the 'One Health' concept. The research team will conduct an integrated research programme on the environmental ARGs in Hong Kong and perform an unprecedented systematic surveillance of ARG profiles across environments in Hong Kong. The resulting local map of ARGs will assist in developing a risk assessment framework, which will identify critical control points that should be prioritised to tackle ARGs in the environment.

Project Coordinator: Professor T. Zhang, Department of Civil Engineering (zhangt@hkucc.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)

Sustainable Power Delivery Structures for High Renewables (completed)

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

Sustainable Lighting Technology: From Devices to Systems (completed)

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

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

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)

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

Financial Technology, Stability, and Inclusion

Financial technology (FinTech) has witnessed a spectacular growth in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. This project aims to develop a scientific framework on credit risk assessment and management for small businesses and consumers, lay out a formal foundation for smart contract / mechanism design, provide a platform for conducting programme evaluation on the real economic and social impact of FinTech, form and test macro theories/models of financial risk featured with FinTech development, and provide policy recommendations for financial stability and inclusion.

Project Coordinator: Professor C. Lin, Faculty of Business and Economics (chenlin1@hku.hk)

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

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

Overcoming Technical Limits of Copper Hybrid Bonding for Advanced Three-Dimensional Integrated Circuits

The fast development of Internet of Things (IoT) demands new-generation integrated circuits (ICs) that are smaller, cheaper, consume less power, and have more functionalities. To boost the performance of three-dimensional (3D) ICs, the research team aims to overcome several technical limits of copper hybrid bonding for manufacturing advanced 3DICs. The major goals include (i) developing bonding alignment approaches with ~60 nm precision for advanced 3DICs; (ii) developing copper plating formulation and low thermal budget/stress bonding processes for enhancing productivity, yield and reliability; (iii) developing an ultrasound array imaging method with AI learning for fast, non-destructive, and high-resolution in-line defect monitoring; and (iv) demonstrating heterogenous 3D integration on logic-memory systems, test chips provided by industries, and designed photonics-Si ICs.

Project Coordinator: Professor L. Li, Department of Mechanical Engineering (lanceli1@hku.hk

ReRACE: ReRAM AI Chips on the Edge

At the heart of artificial intelligence (AI) is deep learning and deep neural networks, which have posed new challenges due to their ever-growing complexity and sizes. This contrasts with the latest AI trend to offload various AI tasks to the edge (namely, terminal or user-end) equipped with only resource-constrained hardware. The situation is accentuated by the traditional von Neumann computing architecture, which suffers power and latency bottlenecks due to the heavy data traffic between memory and processing elements. This project is codenamed ReRACE (ReRAM AI Chips on the Edge) and aims to achieve a complete device-circuit and system-application stack that harnesses ReRAM arrays for ultra-low-power and high-speed edge AI computing. Outputs from ReRACE will provide a versatile solution for next-generation edge AI chips featuring in-memory computing and orders of improvement in energy efficiency over existing von Neumann computing architectures.

Project Coordinator: Dr. N. Wong, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (nwong@eee.hku.hk)

Intelligent Robotics for Elderly Assistance in Hong Kong

This project aims to develop innovative intelligent robotics systems to improve mobility and manipulability, prevent falls, enhance independence, and improve the quality of life of older adults, in particular, through a User-Centric Co-creation (UC³) approach for developing novel intelligent wearable robots. The UC³ approach will start with a psycho-social study to identify the individual needs of older adults, which will then lead to determining kinesiology-based design parameters for personalised wearable robots. The robot development will be based on novel hybrid soft/rigid structures integrated with intelligent sensors, distributed actuators, and cooperative control methods. The devices will be tested with elderly users in a user-centric environment for evaluation and continuous improvement.

Project Coordinator: Professor N. Xi, Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering (xining@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)

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)