2014 Senior Medical Research Fellow: Annie Cheung

2 June 2015

Professor Annie Cheung is a doctor by training and a pathologist by profession with a key focus on women’s cancers. 

Cheung's focus stems from her past medical training in obstetrics and gynaecology which has led her to pursue clinical pathological studies, as well as biological and genetic studies of the female genital tract.

As a pathologist, Cheung focuses on laboratory medicine, in particular, anatomical reports on tissues and cells. She is in charge of delivering diagnosis and determining the extent of the disease so that bed-side clinicians can use that information to decide on the best treatment for patients. With the rise in molecular targeted therapy, Cheung is also engaged in delivering molecular targeted analysis of the cancers to assess in greater detail the type of tumour and carry out mutation analysis. These molecular pathology tests also predict whether or not the cancer of a patient is responsive to such therapy, thus contributing significantly to the decision of adopting such a treatment, especially with regards to the high costs and potential side-effects of the treatment.

In addition to clinical service and teaching medical students, Cheung and her team are involved in carrying out research on women’s cancers, including ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and Gestational Trophoblastic Diseases (GTD).

Cheung’s current research under the Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowship is on NANOG, a stem cell transcription factor. A complicated orchestra of stem cell transcription factors are needed to maintain cells in a stem cell state, so that they capable of self-renewal and remain pluripotent. These factors are important in embryotic development. In recent years, it has been found that they are also essential after delivery in adult stem cells, as well as a significant factor in the development of cancers. It is believed that these stem cell-like cells in cancers are responsible for the resistance of the cancer to chemotherapy and drug treatments.

Cheung’s research is focused on ovarian cancer in particular. She says, “The mortality rate for ovarian cancer is still disappointingly high. It is often because this cancer is diagnosed after it has spread beyond the ovary and it is common for the cancer to develop chemo-resistance, and for reoccurrence to take place.”

In her research, she assesses in greater detail the role of NANOG and how its characteristics can be used to help patients suffering from ovarian cancer. Cheung has conducted past studies on the subject which have shown that a high expression of NANOG increases the aggressiveness of the ovarian cancer cells, thus reducing the rate of survival of the patient.

The aim is to explore the interaction of NANOG with other partners and signal pathways in order to manipulate these mechanisms and determine an effective target for therapy. This could inhibit the aggressiveness of the cancer cells and greatly improve treatment for ovarian cancer in general.

Cheung is currently a Clinical Professor at the Department of Pathology, The University of Hong Kong. She is the key pathologist for gynaecological histopathology and cytology in Queen Mary Hospital and the Pathologist in Charge of the HKU Cervical Cytology Laboratory, the first pathology laboratory in Hong Kong that is accredited by the College of American Pathologists. Cheung is also the Director (Molecular Pathology) of the University Pathology Laboratory and the Chief of Service of Pathology, HKU-Shenzhen Hospital.

To view Annie Cheung's personal Croucher profile, please click here

For more information about Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowships, please click here.