2014 Senior Research Fellow: Danny Chan

26 February 2015

Skeletal biologist Danny Chan uses our understanding of genetics to study potential avenues for repair and regeneration.

Early in his career as a scientist, he discovered a passion for the study of rare diseases, such as osteogenesis imperfecta (also known as Brittle Bone disorder) and osteochondrodysplasias.

“I look at rare diseases as a window to look at normal biology because nature has created a change in the gene. This is important as, by understanding what is wrong, we know better what should be right.”

With a key interest in bone formation and maintenance, Chan’s current research focuses on the skeleton in his study of cartilage repair and intervertebral disc degeneration. Intervertebral disc degeneration is a common disease during which cells in the disc tissue gradually degenerate and lose potency, leading to severe back pain and the eventual loss of spinal function.

It is known that there is a significant genetic contribution to our susceptibility in developing this disease. By taking a genetic approach, Chan seeks to understand the molecular network that controls this process and all the cells that contribute to this process.

The first of the two approaches in his study is to decipher the genetic composition that leads to the biological differences between super-healer and poor-healer organisms. These differences reflect the repair sequence and allow for greater comparison of repair potentials. The second approach is to generate and retain recombinant strains with different proportions of super-healer and poor-healer genes. The genetic variations expose the unique function of specific components of the genes.

The study is an international collaboration between Chan’s laboratory in Hong Kong, along with the Swiss foundation AOSpine, as well as laboratories in Japan and Netherlands.

It aims to bring about a better understanding of the genetic control over cartilage repair potentials in cases of intervertebral disc degeneration, and could lead to more extensive therapeutic solutions.

Putting forward scientific findings in a translational manner, for example in the form of clinical application or therapy, is a challenge for many basic scientists. Regarding his study Chan said-

This is an opportunity to push my research towards a more translational level – moving the focus from the genetic understanding of regeneration to the study of repair and regeneration, which are equally as important.

Chan was awarded the Croucher Senior Research Fellowship in 2014. He is currently a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and an Assistant Dean in Research Affairs in the University of Hong Kong Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine. He is also the Vice-chairman of Little People of Hong Kong Foundation, an NGO that he and his research team helped initiate in 2013.

To view Danny Chan's personal Croucher profile, please click here