Issue 15, July 2008

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Research Endowment Fund Adds Momentum to Research
Potential Breakthrough in Coronary Bypass Surgery
Lighting Up Cancer Cells
Finger Joint Brings Hope for Arthritic Sufferers
Innovations Result in Industry Accolades
Clean Energy Alternatives Uncovered at HKUST
CityU Initiatives Lead to Major Energy Savings
Summary Brief for Collaborative Research Fund 2007/2008 Funded Projects


Prof. M C Chu
The recent dramatic discovery that neutrinos are both massive and oscillating promises to revolutionise the study of particle physics, cosmology and astrophysics. However, the value of a key parameter for describing neutrino oscillation, , remains unknown. A team of local and international physicists plans to conduct an experiment at the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant to determine this parameter by measuring the flux of antineutrinos from several nuclear reactors, using underground detectors to suppress the cosmogenic background. This project will promote Hong Kong as a regional centre in fundamental physics research and foster long-term collaboration with leading international research institutes.

Researchers from CUHK and HKU are building a prototype cosmic rays and neutron detector in the Aberdeen Tunnel Laboratory in Hong Kong to help design and optimize the neutrino detector in Daya Bay.   The Daya Bay Neutrino Oscillation Experiment – large detectors will be placed at near and far experimental halls to measure the number of electron antineutrinos emitted from the Daya Bay and Ling Ao nuclear reactors.

PI: Dr. Aimin Xu (HKU)
Cardiovascular disease, such as stroke and heart attack, ranks among the top causes of death and hospitalization in the ageing population. Obesity and diabetes are the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The primary objective of this collaborative project is to establish an integrated basic and clinical research platform in Hong Kong for studying vascular disease in relation to obesity and diabetes. We will comprehensively investigate the pathological roles of several fat-derived circulation factors in the development of these diseases in both animal models and human subjects. Ultimately, this study is expected to help identify novel diagnostic markers and therapeutic targets for treatment and/or prevention of cardiovascular disease associated with obesity and diabetes.

Prof. Lau Key May (HKUST)

Robust, stable, and sensitive micro-sensors are useful in many different areas. The emergence of new materials with unique properties opens new dimensions for sensor applications. The use of semiconductors for sensing offers great advantages for integration of functions such as signal processing and control with miniaturization. III-nitride, a wide band-gap semiconductor, has been successfully developed in the past ten years for short wavelength optical emitters and power RF transistors. Great material improvements of III-nitrides have allowed other possible applications, such as sensors requiring particular robustness in harsh environments. The wide band-gap properties and the strong piezoelectric effects shown in III-nitrides are desirable in high-temperature pressure sensors, which are necessary in the aviation and automotive industries. An in-depth investigation of integrated III-nitride transistors and sensors will be conducted in this interdisciplinary program involving experts in different areas from three Hong Kong universities.


PI: Prof. Zhang Mingjie (HKUST)
Phosphoinositides (PIPs) are important signaling lipids that are distributed in various cellular membranes. PIPs, via binding to proteins, actively regulate numerous cellular processes. In this project, we will investigate the structure and functions of several novel protein-lipid interactions that are implicated in both normal as well as abnormal functioning of brain cells. We aim to elucidate the biochemical and structural basis of the interactions between PIPs with these proteins and to uncover the physiological significance of these newly identified protein-lipid interactions. This project is expected to make important contributions to understanding a number of human diseases including neurodegenerative diseases and cancers.

PI: Prof Wong Ming-hung (HKBU)
Mercury (Hg) is a widely used heavy metal that demands attention due to its potential adverse impacts on environmental and human health. Mercury exists in several chemical forms with different toxicities. The most toxic form is methylmercury (MeHg), which is usually formed in aquatic environments. The fish produced from Hg-contaminated water bodies may contain high levels of MeHg that may get into the food chain, thereby imposing health hazards to humans. The major objective of this research project is to investigate the current status of Hg contamination in aquaculture at the Pearl River Delta region, and to carry out a health risk assessment.

PI: Prof. Wen Luan Wendy Hsiao (HKBU)
Proteomics is a novel and powerful technology that studies the complete catalog of every protein in a given biological source, such as serum, urine, cell extracts, etc. It has been successfully applied for biomarker discovery in diseases and symptoms. Such a global approach is particularly suitable for the investigation of the drug action of Chinese Medicine (CM) that is believed to be multi-compound, multi-target, multi-pathway, and multi-factor in nature. In this project, we propose to employ proteomic profiling analysis for the identification of clinically relevant biomarkers in two disease animal models (colon cancer and rheumatoid arthritis animal models) under CM treatment. The biomarkers established from this project will not only provide insights toward the action of CM, linking biological processes and signaling pathways to the efficacy of CM, but it will also lend an useful experimental model for evidence-based clinical study of CM.

PI: Dr Zhou Zhongjun (HKU)
Aging is the age-related deterioration of the body function. As normal aging progresses over a long period of time, precocious/accelerated aging syndromes become ideal models for aging research. In this study, Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS) and a related mouse model, Zmpste24 deficiency, will be used to study several aspects of aging, such as epigenetic alterations, cell division control and stem cell contribution. We expect to identify the similarities and difference between normal aging and accelerated aging.

PI: Prof. Sun Hongzhe (HKU)
The goals are to identify key metal-binding proteins that are crucial for the survival and virulence of Helicobacter pylori by comparative genomics and proteomics; to validate and functionally characterize the promising proteins, and to over-express and structurally characterize selected metal-binding proteins (e.g. nickel transport/storage proteins). Our approach includes using molecular genetic and comparative enomics/proteomics approaches, to elucidate the roles played by metal-binding proteins in cell growth regulation, stress response, biofilm formation, and virulence. Structural biology will provide hints for drug development. The anticipated discoveries will provide a more comprehensive scenario of Helicobacter pylori on a molecular basis and may offer novel approaches for combating pathogenic bacteria and stomach cancer.