Croucher Innovation Awards 2020 and Senior Research Fellowships 2021

11 December 2020

The Croucher Foundation has presented Croucher Innovation Awards 2020, Croucher Senior Research Fellowships 2021 and Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowships 2021 to six distinguished scholars from local universities for their excellent scientific research achievements.

This year, two awardees were presented with Croucher Innovation Awards, three with Croucher Senior Research Fellowships and one with Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowships.

Croucher Innovation Awards 2020

First presented in 2012, the Croucher Innovation Awards aim to identify a small number of exceptionally talented scientists working at an internationally competitive level and to offer substantial support to these “rising stars” at a formative stage in their careers. The Awards are designed to enable recipients to pursue their own scientific, intellectual and professional inclinations, to advance their expertise, to engage in bold new work, and to contribute to the development of education and research in Hong Kong. Each award carries a value of up to HK$5 million over 5 years for research expenses of the award winner.

This year’s Innovation Awards went to Dr Ho Ko and Dr Cheng Wang.

Dr Ho KO, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, and the School of Biomedical Sciences, and Assistant Professor (by courtesy), Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Dr Ko’s current research focus is on neuroscience and he is now leading a team with expertise in biology, chemistry and engineering, working on three closely related themes, namely the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative conditions, neural circuit principles mediating sensory perception and behaviour, and the development of biomedical imaging tools. Over the past decades, evidence has accumulated pointing to causal roles of vascular and glial cell dysfunction in various neurodegenerative diseases. Supported by the Croucher Foundation, Dr Ko’s team will study the roles of glial and vascular cell dysfunction in the pathogenesis of age-related neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, with the aim of identifying new disease-modifying therapeutics.

Dr Cheng WANG, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, City University of Hong Kong

A major portion of global datacenter power consumption is spent on the numerous optical fiber links between servers. Dr Wang’s research aims to tackle this problem by innovating compact and high-performance integrated photonic chips. Such chips can replace the bulky and expensive discrete optical components, thus providing faster, more energy-efficient and cost-effective solutions in optical communications, quantum photonics, as well as millimetre-wave and terahertz photonics. Dr Wang has successfully fabricated a tiny on-chip lithium niobate modulator, which is 100 times smaller in size and has 10 times lower optical losses than current lithium niobate modulators. He is looking into the application of this technology for 5G communication and beyond, and working on the scale-up of lithium niobate photonics for future optoelectronics.

Croucher Senior Research Fellowships 2021

The Croucher Senior Research Fellowships scheme was first introduced in 1997. The Fellowships are awarded to local academics who have excelled in scientific research work. The awards are judged by a group of leading international scientists invited to provide confidential reviews of candidates nominated in a competitive exercise. Each award includes a HK$2 million research grant to the award winner. Separate funds are awarded to the universities of the fellowship recipients, enabling the university to recruit replacement teacher/clinical medical staff to take over the award winner’s duties for a twelve-month period. The maximum value of each Senior Research Fellowship is about HK$3 million. The arrangement enables the awardees to devote more time and effort to research work.

Recipients of the 2021 Senior Research Fellowships are Professor Jiandong Huang, Professor Randy Yat Choi Poon and Professor Xunli Wang.

Professor Jiandong HUANG, Chair Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences, LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong

Professor Huang is Chair Professor of Synthetic Biology and L&T Charitable Foundation Professor in Biomedical Sciences at the School of Biomedical Sciences, LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong. His current research focuses on two areas: synthetic biology and intracellular transportation. For intracellular transportation, Professor Huang has been working on illustrating the functions of a microtubule-based motor molecular, Kinesin-1, in different cell types, which is aimed at understanding its roles in different cell types in development and disease. For synthetic biology, Professor Huang has created novel genetic circuits for the control of gene expression and hence biological behaviour. One successful example is the design and assembly with his colleagues of a genetic circuit for the spatiotemporal control of cell distribution and function. This new circuit was used to reveal how repetitive biological structure could be generated and how the number of repeats in biological structures can be controlled. Most recently, his team further engineered the interactions among multiple cell types to generate biological structures. The ability of spatiotemporal control of gene activities, cell-cell interactions, cell distribution and function is very useful for preventive and therapeutic medicine, which Professor Huang is applying to vaccine development and cancer therapy.

Professor Randy Yat Choi POON, Chair Professor, Division of Life Science, School of Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Professor Poon’s main area of research is the mechanisms of cell cycle control and genome stability, both play fundamental roles in normal and abnormal cell division and are intricately linked to many anticancer therapies. Cell cycle is the sequence of events through which a cell duplicates its DNA, grows, and divides, while defective cell cycle control is responsible for the genome instability underlying most cancers. Understanding how the cell cycle is regulated will help scientists to design novel therapeutic approaches to treat cancers. With the Croucher Senior Researcher Fellowship, Professor Poon will lead his group to conduct further studies on areas including the molecular mechanisms of mitosis, how cells cope with the various stresses that compromise genome stability, as well as translational research on potential target proteins for anti-cancer therapies. 

Professor Xunli WANG, Chair Professor, Department of Physics, City University of Hong Kong

Professor Wang conducts research at the interface between condensed matter physics and materials science. He applies state-of-the-art neutron and synchrotron scattering techniques to study phase transformation and deformation in advanced materials. He has also made major contributions to the development of instrumentation that have enabled these seminal studies. Professor Wang’s current research interests include structure and dynamics in metallic glass, deformation behaviours in high entropy alloys and magneto-elastic coupling in magnetic shape memory alloys. With the Croucher Senior Research Fellowship, he will investigate deformation at ultralow temperatures, a new regime where the diminishing atomic mobility and the competition of different crystalline phases have enabled a rich variety of novel deformation mechanisms.

Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowship 2021

Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowships are conferred on outstanding scientists employed on clinical teachers’ terms in medicine and dentistry. The awards are judged by a group of leading international scientists invited to provide confidential reviews of candidates nominated in a competitive exercise. Each award includes a HK$2 million research grant to the award winner. Separate funds are awarded to the universities of the fellowship recipients, enabling the university to recruit replacement teacher/clinical medical staff to take over the award winner’s duties for a twelve-month period. The maximum value of each Senior Medical Research Fellowships is about HK$4.5 million.

Recipient of the 2021 Senior Medical Research Fellowships is Professor Man Fung Yuen.

Professor Man Fung YUEN, Chair Professor, Department of Medicine, LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong

Professor Yuen is Deputy Head of the Department of Medicine, Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and Li Shu Fan Foundation Professor in Medicine, LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong. His research interests include prevention, natural history, serology, virology and treatment of chronic hepatitis B and C, and hepatocellular carcinoma. He is one of the top internationally acclaimed researchers in hepatitis B. He has now published more than 450 papers in world renowned medical journals including New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, Lancet Infectious Diseases and Lancet Oncology. As a world-class clinician scientist, Professor Yuen is now leading most of the international trials examining new drugs including antiviral and immunomodulatory agents for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B. He is also actively performing cutting-edge research on novel markers for hepatitis B infection and occult hepatitis B infection. Besides, Professor Yuen is honourably invited by The Novel Assembly at Karolinska Institute to nominate candidates for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for both 2020 and 2021.