JUSTL participant: Dr Idy Hiu Ting Ho

21 May 2020

Dr Idy Hiu Ting Ho has a Lee Hysan Post-Doctoral Fellowship, which is a four-year post-doctoral training programme that allows her to spend two years working with Professor Irene Tracey at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford (UK), followed by two years at the The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Dr Ho obtained her PhD in 2017 in the laboratory of Professor Matthew Tak Vai Chan in the Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, where she was working on a project to determine possible ways to treat chronic pain by disrupting the interaction between pro-brain-derived neurotrophic factor (pro-BDNF) and sortilin, the former being a protein known to play a role in a number of neurological disorders. After completing her PhD, Dr Ho worked as a Research Associate in the same laboratory, and at this time she was involved in various projects to investigate the changes that occur in neurons and immune cells in the spinal cord during chronic pain.

Current Work

Dr Ho started her Post-Doctoral training towards the end of 2018. She is currently working with Professor Tracey at the University of Oxford, where she has been learning how to conduct functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the human brain as well as performing some clinical studies to investigate the pain mechanism in human patients. With regards to the latter, the team is using a capsaicin-induced pain human model to investigate the neuronal activity in the spinal cord. She is also helping to establish the University of Oxford as one of the partners of the IMI-Paincare project in the IMI-PAINCARE consortium. The main focus of the Oxford team is to promote the use of neuroimaging as a biomarker of pain by looking at the pharmaco-dynamic efficacy of currently-used analgesics.

JUSTL Programme

Dr Ho was a participant in the 2014 JUSTL programme. She was mentored by the JUSTL Co-director, Professor Robert Baker (New York University Medical School), Professor Scott T. Brady (University of Illinois at Chicago, IL, USA), and Professor Alexander F Schier (Harvard University). For the first half of her time in the US, Dr Ho worked in Professor Schier’s laboratory in Harvard University and learned how to transplant primordial germ cells in zebrafish embryos. She then brought the technique back to the MBL and set up a transplantation rig in the JUSTL laboratory with the help of Prof Baker so that she could practice the procedure by herself. Dr Ho also spent several weeks in Professor Brady’s laboratory where she learned how to dissect the giant axon from the squid and then conducted vesicle motility assays to investigate the effect of recombinant tau protein and huntingtin on axonal transport. Dr Ho said that, “Professor Brady is an enthusiastic scientist, an excellent teacher, and a great mentor. He ensures that everyone in his lab understands every detail of the experiment by repeatedly explaining and giving short talks on the subject.”

Dr Ho also attended the lectures of the Summer courses. She said, “Top scientists in their respective fields were invited as lecturers, and they shared basic and specialised techniques as well as their important findings with students. I was very impressed by the active interactions between the lecturers and the students. The lecturers encourage the students to interrupt and ask questions immediately and anytime that they have questions…and they are perfectly willing to re-explain their ideas until no one is confused with the course content.”

Dr Ho also remembers one of the Friday evening lectures that she went to. “There was a full-house and all the audience including the elderly and small kids were asking questions about the lecture. It was fascinating to see that a scientist could explain their detailed work to kids aged 3-5. This lecture motivated me to participate in some of the STEM courses for junior/senior secondary students when I was back in Hong Kong. I expect that in my future career, I will not only focus on my research work, but also participate in more public engagement activities to show the public how interesting and important science is.”

Dr Ho believes that the JUSTL programme gave her the confidence to take part in her current Post-Doctoral training programme and to continue to have a career in research. She said, “It wasn’t a piece of cake for me to let go of everything in Hong Kong (including my research work and my usual life) for two whole years in my late twenties and start from scratch [in the UK] to learn a completely new technique. However, luckily it has just been confirmed that The Chinese University of Hong Kong will establish an fMRI research center in 2020. So taking part in the JUSTL programme showed me that chances are everywhere and usually, but sometimes unexpectedly, these can lead on to other good things.”