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The Funding Results of the Fourth Round of Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme

The University Grants Committee (UGC) announced today (4 September 2007) the funding results of the fourth round of its Areas of Excellence (AoE) scheme.

On the advice of its Areas of Excellence Specialist Group (AoESG), the UGC decided to fund the following two proposals for a total amount of $105.92 million over a period of eight years:

Project Title Budget1
Funding Source 1st Phase
2nd Phase
Centre for Research into Circulating Fetal Nucleic Acids (CUHK/HKU)2 UGC AoE Grant: 11.28 18.64 29.92
Other Sources: 10.00 18.64 28.64
Project Total: 58.56
Control of Pandemic and Inter-pandemic Influenza (HKU/CUHK/HKUST/HKBU) UGC AoE Grant: 40.00 36.00 76.00
Other Sources: 14.00 46.00 60.00
Project Total: 136.00

1 The 1st phase funding is for the first 4-year period and the 2nd phase funding is for the second 4-year period.


The underlined institutions are the co-ordinating institutions for the purpose of grant administration.

The abstracts of the two proposals are attached at Annex 1 and Annex 2

Announcing the results, The Hon. Cha, May Lung Laura, Chairman of UGC, said, "The AoE Scheme is a very worthwhile scheme. The scheme helps foster stronger institutional collaboration and provides a platform to bring together consortia of researchers to innovate and contribute their strengths towards international excellence. Its relatively sizeable funding enables large research teams to pursue longer-term and high impact projects."

"I am very pleased to see that institutions have put tremendous efforts into preparing the AoE proposals and offered whole-hearted support to their research teams, as shown by the high quality of the proposals submitted, and their readiness to commit matching funding throughout the project duration," the Hon. Mrs Cha added.

Commenting on the quality of the proposals in the fourth round, Professor Sir Colin Lucas, Chairman of the AoESG remarked, "The quality of all the proposals was very high. Since the AoE Scheme is highly selective, it has to apply very stringent standards in the evaluation. The two selected projects are clearly top-notch and their research teams are recognized as international leaders in the relevant fields. We believe that these two projects will benefit the social, economic and academic development of Hong Kong in the long run, and reinforce Hong Kong's relative strength in the respective research areas."

The UGC received a total of 37 initial proposals from seven UGC-funded institutions in the fourth round in December 2006, covering a wide spectrum of research subjects in biology & medicine, physical sciences, engineering, humanities, social sciences and business studies. Evaluation was undertaken by review panel composed of predominantly overseas experts from the related fields.

The progress of all AoE funded projects is subject to rigorous monitoring, and release of funding is dependent on achievement of deliverables at different stages. In addition to scrutiny of progress reports, the UGC also conducts on-site review visits to the projects as part of its monitoring and assessment effort.

For background of the AoE Scheme please refer to Annex 3

UGC Secretariat
4 September 2007

Note to editors:

For enquiries on this press release, please contact Mr Anthony Chan, Assistant Secretary General (Research) of the UGC Secretariat at 2844 9916.

Annex 1

Centre for Research into Circulating Fetal Nucleic Acids

Prenatal diagnosis is an indispensable component of health care. Definitive diagnostic methods in current use, e.g. amniocentesis, are invasive and pose a risk to the unborn child. In 1997, the project coordinator and his research team discovered, for the first time in the world, the presence of cell-free fetal DNA in the plasma of pregnant women, offering new possibilities for non-invasive prenatal diagnosis. The project team has further pioneered many diagnostic applications, a number of which are now used clinically by many centres globally. To maintain Hong Kong at the forefront in non-invasive prenatal diagnostic research, a Centre consisting of a multidisciplinary conglomerate of local and international researchers is formed under this Area of Excellence project, coordinated by The Chinese University of Hong Kong. The Centre will address a number of high-profile unsolved questions in the field of circulating fetal nucleic acids, including non-invasive molecular methods for the diagnosis of fetal Down syndrome. Our ultimate goal is to make safe prenatal diagnosis available to citizens around the world and to promote the development of expertise in molecular diagnostics in this region.

Annex 2

Control of Pandemic and Inter-pandemic Influenza

Influenza pandemics are unique in spreading world-wide to affect over one-third of the global population within months of their emergence If, for example, the H5N1 "bird-flu" virus acquires capacity for efficient transmission in humans, it could give rise to devastating consequences for human health. Furthermore, in today's globalised world, such an event will have unprecedented economic and social consequences. In addition to influenza pandemics which arise from animals and occur at irregular intervals, "human" influenza viruses cause outbreaks every year contributing to over 1000 deaths, many more hospital admissions and significant economic loss through absenteeism within Hong Kong. However, many key questions about the emergence and spread of these viruses and how they cause disease remain unanswered. This AoE program brings together researchers at The University of Hong Kong, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Hong Kong Baptist University working in close partnership with relevant Hong Kong government organizations, with the aim of identifying novel options to control influenza. Furthermore, through knowledge transfer, the development of trained scientists and generation of intellectual property, this AoE will contribute to Hong Kong's development as a regional hub for bio-medical education, research and biotechnology.

Annex 3

Background of AoE Scheme

On the advice of the UGC, the Government agreed in 1997 to support UGC-funded institutions to build upon their existing strengths with a view to developing them into "Areas of Excellence". The aim is to assist in maintaining and enhancing Hong Kong's pivotal position in the overall development of China and the Pacific Rim.

The AoE scheme was launched by the UGC in 1998. In the first three rounds, the UGC funded eight projects with a total of $320 million for a period of five years. A total of HK$69.3 million sustained funding was also granted to three first and second round projects for a period of three years. The eight projects are:

i. Information Technology ( HKUST / CUHK / HKU )

ii. Institute of Economics and Business Strategy ( HKU )

iii. Centre for Plant and Agricultural Biotechnology (formerly known as "Plant and Fungal Biotechnology") ( CUHK / HKU / HKBU )

iv. Molecular Neuroscience: Basic Research and Drug Discovery ( HKUST / CUHK / HKBU / HKU )

v. Chinese Medicine: Research and Further Development ( CUHK / CityU / PolyU / HKUST )

vi. Institute of Molecular Technology for Drug Discovery and Synthesis ( HKU / PolyU / CUHK / HKUST / CityU )

vii. Centre for Marine Environmental Research and Innovative Technology ( CityU / HKU / HKUST / CUHK / HKBU / PolyU )

viii. Developmental Genomics & Skeletal Research ( HKU / HKUST / PolyU )

Six of the above projects have completed (with three being awarded with sustained funding) and the others are at different stages of development.