JUSTL participant: Dr Graham Ka Hon Shea

21 May 2020

Dr Graham Ka Hon Shea is a Croucher Foundation funded Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, The University of Hong Kong. He was an MBBS/PhD student at HKU, completing his PhD training in 2010 and being conferred with his MBBS/PhD double degree in 2012. Dr Shea embarked on his PhD training on completion of the third year of his medical training. He conducted a project under the supervision of Prof Daisy Kwok Yan Shum and Prof Ying Shing Chan of the School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Hong Kong. He investigated how Notch signaling modulates the Erb receptor in Schwann cells derived from bone marrow stromal cells, with a view to develop Schwann cell transplantation methodologies as a means to stimulate regeneration following nerve and spinal cord injuries. After completing his PhD, Dr Shea returned to medical school for two years, after which he completed a one-year medical internship followed by a six-year specialty training programme in Orthopedics and Traumatology. Dr Shea became a specialist in Orthopedics and Traumatology in 2019, and today, in addition to his clinical duties, he continues his basic science research in collaboration with Profs Shum and Chan.

Current work

During his six years of speciality training, Dr Shea spent most of his time on clinical duties. This included attending to patients in the clinic and ward as well as working in the operating theatre, and being on-call overnight. At this time, he also prepared for his membership and fellowship exams. In the limited time remaining, Dr Shea helped to co-supervise postgraduate students and in this way was able to continue his research in neurobiology but in a clinical context as peripheral nerve and spinal cord injuries are relevant to his field of practice. Now that his medical training is complete, Dr Shea has more time to spend on research and he is supervising three postgraduate students and one undergraduate student. Together, they are developing techniques to isolate glia from human bone marrow for cell therapy as well as studying the biology of glial scars, which form with damage to the nervous system. In addition, Dr Shea has a number of ongoing clinical research projects concerning the use of novel drugs to treat back pain, and on the pathomechanism of scoliosis.

JUSTL Programme

Dr Shea was a participant in the 2009 JUSTL programme, and his mentor was Prof James L. Salzer, who is an expert in glial biology at New York University School of Medicine. Dr Shea worked on a project to investigate the role of mTOR in regulating the maturation of Schwann cell precursors. He found his time in the Salzer laboratory to be very inspiring as he learned to appreciate how Prof Salzer managed his team. He also recalls that, “It was interesting working with an international group of post-docs and PhD candidates and hearing their stories of how they had gotten to this stage of their research careers.”

In addition to his laboratory-based work, Dr Shea attended a number of lectures and seminars at the MBL and found them highly enlightening as they “provided a glimpse of the remarkable advances in different fields.”

Dr Shea found the JUSTL programme to be especially good in helping him to network and connect with specialists in his area of research. Indeed, after the 2009 JUSTL programme had finished, Dr Shea and Prof Salzer kept in contact and Dr Shea’s PhD supervisors began a formal collaboration with Prof Salzer and they secured a Research Grants Council grant together.

When I asked Dr Shea if the JUSTL programme might have helped to shape his career, he told me, “I saw the dedication, resources, and years of investment without immediate return that is required to be successful in basic science research. Though this remains a main research passion of mine, I have subsequently dedicated more time to translational and clinical research. As I try to juggle my priorities as a clinician scientist, it is easier to think about how to apply breakthroughs in basic biology to more clinically applicable scenarios.”