Tsinghua – HKU collaboration on Sjogren’s syndrome

13 August 2015

Croucher Foundation has approved a grant of HKD 3 million (HKD 1 million each year for 3 consecutive years from 2016 to 2018) to support the joint study between the HKU Medical Faculty and Tsinghua University School of Medicine on the pathogenesis and treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome.

Sjögren’s syndrome, one of the most common autoimmune diseases, is characterised by lymphocytic infiltration of exocrine glands, mostly salivary and lacrimal glands. In other words, people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands, causing symptoms of dryness felt throughout the entire body.

In a recently published paper, a team led by Professor Liwei LU at the HKU Medical Faculty has established a mouse model of experimental Sjögren’s syndrome induced by immunisation with salivary gland proteins, which resembles human Sjögren’s syndrome. Using this model, researchers have identified a critical role of IL-17-producing T cells in the pathogenesis of ESS. On the other side, the research team at Institute of Immunology at Tsinghua University has developed various gene-targeted mouse models for studying immune response and its dysregulation. Through collaboration, scientists have proposed to investigate the roles of T and B cells in the pathogenesis of the disease, to examine the functions of effector cytokines, and to explore novel therapeutic strategies.

The research findings from this multi-year collaboration will provide new insight in understanding the immune pathology of this disease, which is expected to be the starting point of a new chapter in the study on Sjögren’s syndrome. Scientists from the two institutions will focus on pre-clinical studies, whilst in future, make connections with the clinical area to discover new diagnosis and possible treatments.

The funding programme will kick off on 1 January 2016. Initially, funds will be used to facilitate the student exchanges, lab visits, and research workshops in between the two institutes. Both universities have shown strong institutional support to the project, and Tsinghua is likely to match the Croucher grant in fractions from the mainland side. This is also Croucher Foundation’s first collaboration with a top tier institute on mainland China other than the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Other known funding bodies to this project include RGC in Hong Kong, NSFC and National 973 Key Basic Research Program in China.

The research team at Tsinghua is led by Professor Chen DONG, an internationally renowned immunologist and Bayer Chair Professor at School of Medicine. Before 2013, Professor Dong had served as a full professor of at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer for over 10 years, as well as director of Center for Inflammation and Immunology. His has received many awards for his research achievements and was a fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor Dong has taken editorship in leading journals including Journal of Immunology.

The research team at HKU is led by Professor Liwei LU, who is an internationally recognised expert in the field of autoimmunity and currently serves as the Chairman of Hong Kong Society for Immunology. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers in leading immunology and rheumatology journals. His research achievements have been recognised with numerous awards including the Croucher Senior Research Fellowship in 2012 and the HKU Outstanding Researcher Award in 2013.

To read more about Croucher funding schemes, please click here.