Ray So: "I hope that my research can help the development of therapeutics to treat viral infections"

Ray, young PhD graduate in virology, shares with us his experience at HKU-Pasteur.

Reflecting on his experience as a PhD graduate, Ray wanted to express his gratitude to the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole for providing a vibrant and collaborative research environment to carry out his study: “In the summer of 2019, I joined Chris Mok’s team here to conduct a research project on MERS-CoV led by Professor Malik Peiris. Under his guidance, I established a reverse genetics system for my study. During the COVID outbreak, I also worked together with Chris’ team to write a few publications on SARS-CoV2. It was definitely an intense experience as we did the research against the clock and then published our data to the world”.

Ray’s PhD study focused specifically on understanding the virus evolution, phenotype and human infection of MERS-CoV in Nigeria, West Africa. It aimed to address the disconnection between the lack of human MERS-CoV cases in Nigeria and the detection of MERS-CoV in Nigerian camels. Altogether, his findings showed that MERS-CoV in Nigeria is a genetically distinct variant and has a lesser experimental viral fitness, as Nigerian camel workers were also found without evidence of MERS-CoV infection through serological assays. The key implication of this study suggests that the genotype of Nigeria MERS-CoV is likely responsible for the MERS-CoV epidemiology in Nigeria, or in other parts of West Africa.

While conducting his research at the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole, Ray was impressed with the pole’s emphasis on ideas discussion and critique during the routine lab meetings. Often led by Prof. Roberto Bruzzone, the lab meeting enables students to train to present their data and brainstorm the interpretation of experimental data with fellow researchers. With the interdisciplinary background you can find at HKUPRP, you learn how other teams carry out their studies, and receive constructive comments to polish your study. Everyone is very friendly and likes to have fun!

Ray now has a great future ahead, for himself as well as for the research world: “My next plan is to look for a post-doc position, to extend my expertise in virology. My long-term research interest will aim to understand the replication biology of coronaviruses or other emerging viral pathogens. I hope that one day my research can help the development of therapeutics that treat people with viral infections”.