Activity Report

Annual Report 2014

Download the Annual Report 2014

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Institut Pasteur (IP) have established the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole (HKU-PRP), a laboratory integrated into the School of Public Health of HKU, with a signing ceremony on December 17, 2013.  HKU-PRP will further develop the successful partnership between HKU and IP by focusing on the cell biology of infections.  HKU-PRP is expanding its current strength on respiratory diseases by implementing research programs that tackle neglected tropical diseases, such as arboviroses, as well as basic cell biology that is relevant to the advancement of our understanding of pathogenetic mechanism.  HKU-PRP is strengthning its position as a regional reference for the Institut Pasteur International Network, with particular emphasis on postgraduate training, and is firmly engaged also in undergraduate teaching with the School of Public Health and the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at HKU.  We have recruited a new Group Leader at the end of 2013 and are launching a new search in 2015 to expand our critical mass.

Research.  Our vision is to generate biological knowledge to better understand and treat infectious diseases by bringing together scientists with an interdisciplinary mind.  We have re-organized the structure of the lab, which now consists of three Group Leaders – one of which has been recruited in 2013, and have secured several independent extramural grants to continue our research focus on respiratory infections and the mosquito borne disease of dengue.  With respect to influenza research, we have extended our exploration of virus-host interaction and host response to viral infection by combining clinical studies and basic research investigations to gain insight into the mechanistic aspects of disease pathogenesis.  We have been the driving force to set up a new research platform between HKU and the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University.  This initiative will cover a wide range of investigations related to new emerging viruses identified in Guangzhou and laboratory space will be made available to HKU-PRP to develop collaborative research projects.  In addition, we are still actively engaged in research on the newly identified Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)and have validated a neutralization assay for seroepidemiological studies on MERS-CoV.  The newly developed assay does not require Biosafety Level 3 containment and is thus a relatively high-throughput assay, well suited for large-scale seroepidemiology studies, which we are planning in collaboration with Pasteur Institutes in Northern Africa to better understand the ecology and epidemiology of MERS-CoV.  With respect to dengue research, we have identified a crucial cellular factor that is necessary for the virus to exit from the infected cell.  This is the first characterization of a host intracellular receptor that is necessary for trafficking and secretion of progeny virus.  We are now extending our investigations on the characterization of host factors that are exploited in extensive remodeling of the endoplasmic reticulum to facilitate virus replication, trafficking, assembly and egress.  The scientific output of HKU-PRP has been of the highest quality, with 27 papers published since January 2014. 

Teaching.  Our program of courses for postgraduate students and young scientists has become a reference beyond the Asia region, drawing an increasing number of highly qualified applications from around the world.  This educational program has established a worldwide network of trainees, who seek our mentorship well after the course.  In addition, we have started in 2012 collaboration with the Pasteur Institute of Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) to establish an annual international course on epidemiology and public health.  The 2014 edition focused on influenza-like illness and was organized in collaboration with the School of Public Health.

Perspectives.  We have developed a strong identity that is contributing to promote the presence and image of HKU, as well as of IP and its international network, in the region through research, teaching and public health activities.  We have now the opportunity to expand our critical mass and plan to recruit a new Group Leader towards the end of 2015.  In recognition of our achievements, we have been designated as the Asian hub of the Pasteur Network and will be playing a key role in the Center for Global Health Research and Education that Institut Pasteur has established to develop throughout the network the capacity to confront major current and upcoming global health challenges through an innovative model for research collaboration.  In summary,the results obtained in 2014 are clearly in line with our strategic objectives and represent a solid foundation to position HKU-PRP as a cluster of excellence within the School of Public Health.