JUSTL participant: Dr Jason Wing-yiu Kan
Dr Jason Kan is a Pharmacokinetics Specialist in the Clinical Trials Centre at the University of Hong Kong. He obtained his PhD in 2015 from the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in the laboratory of Professor Larry Ming-cheung Chow. In his PhD research, he was involved in the development of a series of flavonoid dimers, a new family of chemical compounds. The ultimate goal of the project was to reverse multi-drug resistance in cancer cells by developing new drugs to target P-glycoprotein, one of the transporters that is related to drug resistance as it actively pumps drugs out of cells. Dr Kan characterised several of these flavonoid dimers via a drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK) approach using pre-clinical animal models. By studying the absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination (ADME) properties of these compounds, he showed that some of the flavonoid dimers could inhibit the intestinal P-glycoprotein in animals. The inhibition of intestinal P-glycoprotein significantly enhances the oral absorption of anti-cancer drugs and thus allows drugs initially developed for intravenous use to become orally available. This greatly improves the quality of life for cancer patients and facilitates the use of anti-cancer drug treatment.
In The University of Hong Kong Clinical Trials Centre (CTC), Dr Kan works closely with the clinicians and study teams at Queen Mary Hospital who are conducting clinical trials. Blood samples from healthy volunteers recruited to test new drugs and generic drugs, are analysed in the CTC pharmacokinetics laboratory. The content of the test drug in the blood is quantified and a pharmacokinetics profile is acquired. Dr Kan supervises a team of laboratory analysts to conduct the sample analysis by mass spectrometry, and then he is responsible for the subsequent pharmacokinetics analysis. Recent work generated from his team was used to support drug registration in China.
Dr Kan participated in the 2014 JUSTL programme and worked on a couple of projects. In the first project, with Professor Andrew L. Miller (The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), he used the scanning vibrating electrode technique (SVET) to measure the electric fields around Gli1-induced skin tumours in Xenopus laevis embryos as a first step to investigate the role of potassium ion channels in the progression of skin cancer. He then worked with Dr Alessandro Rubinacci (San Raffaele Hospital, Milan, Italy) and Mr Alan Shipley (Applicable Electronics Inc., New Haven, CT), and used the scanning ion-selective electrode technique (SIET) to investigate the calcium ion currents generated around wounded bone.
Dr Kan really enjoyed his 8 weeks on the JUSTL programme. He told me that throughout his PhD he was working on pre-clinical translational research; however, at JUSTL he had the opportunity to work on a completely different project as he was conducting basic research to investigate how tumours form. This was the first time that he had worked with Xenopus as a model system. In addition, the sophisticated SVET and SIET equipment were all very new to him, and he spent a lot of time learning to master these techniques.
Dr Kan was especially inspired by a series of workshops that he attended for junior scientists, which provided advice about how to find their direction for their career. One workshop that stands out for him in particular, emphasized the importance of not just doing successful experiments and getting solid data, but also being able to manage a team of people in a laboratory environment. Following this talk, Dr Kan started to focus on getting some management experience, and he believes that this has helped him in the job he is doing today at The University of Hong Kong.
Dr Kan felt that all in all the JUSTL programme was amazing experience as it provided students from Hong Kong the opportunity to join a new community who are all focused on science. He said that “the atmosphere was great”, and that unlike at a conference where the topic might be very focussed, at the MBL scientists are working in a diverse range of scientific fields. Indeed, he believes that attending the JUSTL programme and talking to other people about their work, helped him find his niche in clinical and translational research.