Research and Innovation |
HKUST-led Research Team Unveils Groundbreaking Quantum Simulation of 3D Topological Matter with Ultracold Atoms

Complex topological matter (peculiar materials with different bulk and surface properties) has become the focus of both industrial and academic research because it is seen as a way to eventually make quantum computing more noise-free and robust. Today’s physical quantum computers are still noisy, and the protection of fragile quantum information against noises is a growing field of research. The goal of fault-tolerant quantum computing is to maintain its functionality in the presence of noise, which has driven investment into complex topological matter.

Prof. JO Gyu-Boong, Associate Professor from the Department of Physics at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Prof. LIU Xiongjun, Professor from the School of Physics at Peking University (PKU), have successfully created the world’s first 3D simulation of topological matter consisting of ultracold atoms, prepared at 30 billionths of a degree above absolute zero, paving the way for further examination of new topological matter that cannot be well realized in solids. Such never-before-done engineering artificial material with ultracold atoms may allow physicists to model unusual phases of matter that may lead to the development of new quantum devices.

The topological nature of the material means that it tends to withstand imperfections within an operating system and also holds the potential for other yet unknown exotic properties.

Previous attempts at topological matter simulations were limited to lower dimensions, due to challenges on how to characterize 3D band topology in atomic systems. The simulation in 3D would enable full investigation of nontrivial topological phases that are not available in 1D or 2D, including various insulating, semimetal, and superfluid phases in ultracold atoms.

The physicists devised an artificial crystal lattice structure in which ultracold atoms move around likewise electrons in solids. In experiments, the researchers coupled the atomic spin with the direction of atomic motion making such synthetic matter topological, and observed peculiar energy spectrum using an innovative detection technique. This new synthetic quantum matter is a 3D spin-orbit coupled nodal-line topological semimetal.

The research was recently published online in Nature Physics on July 29, 2019 (DOI:10.1038/s41567-019-0564-y).

“Our work opens up many possibilities for developing new topological materials that do not occur naturally,” said Prof. Jo. “This development demonstrates there is a new possibility to explore complex topological material in 3D, and will provide a useful platform for quantum simulation.”

This work is further research of the previous work published by the collaborating team in Science Advances 4, eaao4748 (2018).

Announcements |
2019 HKUST Science Summer Camp : 1-3 August, 2019 (for S4 and S5 HKDSE students from local secondary schools)

2019 HKUST Science Summer Camp

 

Camp Description 

We are inviting S4 and S5 secondary school students with great enthusiasm in science to join us to experience an exciting voyage of discovery and a vibrant campus life at HKUST.

 

Students in the Science Summer Camp are engaged in a wide range of inspiring and interesting activities, including hands-on workshops and experiments, mini-lectures, social gatherings and out-of-classroom activities, so as to feel what university life is all about. The Camp serves as a unique platform for secondary school students to meet and exchange with young scholars at HKUST.

 

If you are eager to know more about the world of Science, this Camp is for you! Come and join us to get an idea of what you would like to do, to create, or to improve, before you step foot in the University.

 

You will stay in one of the furnished student halls located at the seafront of HKUST campus and then experience a vivid campus living by exploring the campus and acquainting with our current students, who share the same passion as you in various disciplines in science.

 

When?

1 — 3 Aug 2019 (Thursday — Saturday)
3-Day Residential Camp

 

Where?

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Click here for map

 

Who?

S4 and S5 HKDSE students from local secondary schools who are taking at least one of the following subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Combined Science, Integrated Science, M1 or M2.

 

Camp Highlights 

Popular Science Talks & Faculty Sharing

Our professors from various fields will deliver inspirational mini-lectures and share with students the latest science topics.

 

Admission Tips

We offer JUPAS strategy talks of school-based programs and joint school programs and Q&A session.

 

Enrichment Laboratory Workshops

Students will participate in hands-on workshops and experiments, interact and work in teams and visit labs in different research areas.

 

Fun Games

Mentors from our current science students will organize different team-building activities.

 

Application Details and Procedures 

Target
S4 and S5 HKDSE students from local secondary schools who are taking at least one of the following subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Combined Science, Integrated Science, M1 or M2.

 

Camp Fee
HK$800 per person includes meals, accommodation and insurance.

 

Procedures
Step 1: Submit an online application and upload your latest school examination report on or before 10 April 2019.
S4 applicants: Submit S4 report card (Must be in PDF or Jpeg format & file size less than 5M)
S5 applicants: Submit S5 report card (Must be in PDF or Jpeg format & file size less than 5M)

Step 2: Successful applicants will receive a confirmation email with the information about the payment arrangement in late April. Please check your email regularly.

Step 3: Complete an online reply slip and upload the bank-transfer payment slip to confirm your participation on or before the assigned deadline. Upon receiving your confirmation and payment, you will receive an email of your successful enrollment.

 

Note: No refunds or transfers of camp fee will be arranged once the enrollment is accepted.

 

Application deadline
10 April 2019

 

Recognition of Participation

A certificate of attendance upon completion of the entire summer camp;
OEA bonus points will be awarded to those who have chosen one or more of the following programs as their JUPAS Band A choices in the enrollment year:

  • Science Program (JS5100)
  • International Research Enrichment Program (JS5101)
  • Biotechnology and Business Program (JS5811)
  • Mathematics and Economics Program (JS5813)

 

Notes to Campers

Accommodation and meals are included, so you do not have to bring a large sum of money. Please take care of your personal belongings and do not bring valuable items with you.

 

Appropriate attire (smart casual) is expected throughout the Camp. We will also provide a Camp Tee for you to wear at the camp. For laboratory sessions, campers should wear long pants and closed-toe shoes (avoid wearing flip-flops and sandles).

 

Campers are required to attend all scheduled activities and stay with the program during the 3 days.

 

Research and Innovation |
HKUST Researchers Co-Discover a Novel Function of an Enzyme Offering Insight Into the Pathology of Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia

Researchers of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Science recently identified that an enzyme called atlastin (ATL) is used to regulate the transportation of proteins within cells. This novel finding offers new insights into the pathology of Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia – a rare inherited disorder with symptoms of lower limb spasticity accompanied by possible neurological deficiencies. 

ATL was known to be linked to the disease, but how defects in ATL disrupt normal physiology remained unclear.  Now a team led by Prof. GUO Yusong, Assistant Professor of Division of Life Science in the School of Science at HKUST, have discovered that deletion of ATL would drastically slow down the transportation of important proteins produced from within the cell to its surface, which could lead to malfunctioning of our physiology and normal bodily functions.  The team also made an interesting discovery that a mutant version of ATL is capable of restoring such function, providing insight to the search of a cure for the disorder.  The finding was made in collaboration with Prof. HU Junjie’s laboratory from the Institute of Biophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. 

Proteins, such as insulins, antibodies or cell surface-localized signal receptors, need to be transported to the cell surface along the secretory transport pathway once produced within a cell in order to perform their physiological functions. Transportation of these proteins begins at endoplasmic reticulum (ER) – the pathway’s first station, where the proteins are packed into vehicles known as COPII vesicles before being delivered to the cell surface. 

The ER tubules are connected by dynamin-like GTPase atlastin (ATL).  Using the latest CRISPR/Cas9 technology to deplete ATL, Prof Guo and his collaborators discovered that in ATL-deleted cells, not only ER tubules became unconnected, but formation of COPII was also drastically reduced, affecting its protein packaging efficiency.  In fact, many exit sites along the ER network failed to recruit COPII subunits, significantly slowing down the proteins’ movement.  Further studies found both mobility of the proteins and COPII formation can be restored by a mutant version of ATL capable of tethering, but not fusing, ER tubules. 

The findings were recently published in scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) (https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/06/24/1908409116).

Prof. Guo said the findings offered new insights into how defects in ATL causes recessive hereditary spastic paraplegia. “Apparently, ATL-mediated membrane tethering plays a critical role in maintaining the necessary mobility of ER contents, while we are not the right parties to offer a therapeutic strategy, I hope our finding can help offer some clues to the search of a cure for the rare disease,” He said. 

Prof. Guo is a leading expert on membrane trafficking. This research was funded by the Research Grants Council (RGC) of Hong Kong and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). 

About The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) (www.ust.hk) is a world-class research university that focuses on science, technology and business as well as humanities and social science.  HKUST offers an international campus, and a holistic and interdisciplinary pedagogy to nurture well-rounded graduates with global vision, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking.  HKUST attained the highest proportion of internationally excellent research work in the Research Assessment Exercise 2014 of Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee, and is ranked as the world’s best young university in Times Higher Education’s Young University Rankings 2019.  Its graduates were ranked 16th worldwide and top in Greater China in Global University Employability Survey 2018.

 

For media enquiries, please contact:
Anita Lam                  
Tel: 2358 6313                    
Email: anitalam@ust.hk      

Jamie Wong
Tel: 3469 2512
Email: jamiewong@ust.hk

STEM Education |
Let's Get Back On Track In Science

When I was in secondary school, my physics teacher, who was among HKUST's first batch of graduates, always encouraged me and my classmates to explore scientific questions according to our interests, even though those questions are outside the syllabus.

With his encouragement and guidance, we participated in science competitions in high school, paving the way for my continuation of scientific pursuits ever since.

Many of us in the science stream then were lucky to be able to receive comprehensive scientific training and study subjects such as additional maths, biology, physics and chemistry in addition to Chinese, English and maths for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Exam.

At the Advanced Level, we could focus on three science subjects in addition to English and Chinese.

This gave us plenty of exposure to science subjects and room to explore the areas we liked most.

Students nowadays are, however, required to take four compulsory subjects of Chinese, English, maths and liberal studies to meet university admission requirements, leading them to spend much less time on advancing their knowledge in science.

If this situation continues, Hong Kong will likely suffer from a shortage of science and engineering talents in the long run.

Over the years, I have always credited my achievements as a physicist to my incredible teachers and professors for their enlightenment and inspiration.

The desire to reciprocate when I have the opportunity to do so has always been on my mind.

In 2017, recognizing the imminent need to groom young scientists, the Hong Kong Academy of Sciences initiated the establishment of the Hong Kong Young Academy of Sciences.

Officially launched last month, it is a group of young scientists and engineers working in universities in Hong Kong.

Our members have diverse research interests, ranging from quantum physics, biomedical research, textile, civil engineering to cosmology.

Together with our 30 members, we would like to leverage on our expertise to serve our community.

In particular, we are committed to enlightening and grooming future talents in science, innovation and technology.

To kick-start our outreach efforts, and in collaboration with the Hong Kong Academy of Gifted Education, we have launched a series of talks entitled Emerging technologies - Science, Opportunities and Challenges.

In these talks, we would like to introduce the scientific principles behind some emerging technologies such as genome editing, quantum computation, artificial intelligence, science of climate change, computer assisted drug design and the latest discoveries in cosmology.

Many of these technologies are likely to have a huge impact on our economic development and way of life.

We would like to prepare our younger generation for the opportunities and challenges to come.

Currently, the young academy is also heavily involved in mentoring high school students by participating in the "Distinguished Masters, Accomplished Students" mentorship program of the Hong Kong Academy of Sciences.

We are also planning other outreach activities to serve our community.

You are welcome to visit our website https://yashk.org.hk to get connected.

The article was published in The Standard on July 17, 2019.

Research and Innovation |
HKUST Physicist Contributes to New Record of Quantum Memory Efficiency Bringing Quantum Computers Closer to Reality

A joint research team of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and The South China Normal University (SCNU) has set a new record of photonic quantum memory efficiency, pushing quantum computation a step closer to reality.

Like memories in computers, quantum memories are essential components for quantum computers – a new generation of data processors that obey quantum mechanics laws and can overcome the limitations of classical computers. They may push boundaries of fundamental science and help create new drugs, explain cosmological mysteries, or enhance accuracy of forecasts and optimization plans with their potent computational power. Quantum computers are expected to be much faster and more powerful than their traditional counterparts as information is calculated in qubits – which unlike the older units (bits) used in classical computers, can represent both 0 and 1 at the same time.  

Photonic quantum memories allow for the storage and retrieval of flying single-photon quantum states. However, production of such highly-efficient quantum memories remains a major challenge as it requires perfectly matched photon-matter quantum interface. Meanwhile, the energy of a single photon is too weak and can be easily lost into the noisy sea of stray light background. For a long time, these problems suppressed quantum memory efficiencies to below 50% – a threshold value crucial for practical applications.

Now for the first time in history, a joint research team led by Prof. DU Shengwang from the Department of Physics and William Mong Institute of Nano Science and Technology at HKUST; Prof. ZHANG Shanchao from SCNU who graduated his PhD study at HKUST; Prof. YAN Hui from SCNU and a former postdoctoral fellow at HKUST; as well as Prof. ZHU Shi-Liang from SCNU and Nanjing University, has found a way to boost the efficiency of photonic quantum memories to over 85% with a fidelity of over 99%.

The team created such a quantum memory by trapping billions of rubidium atoms into a hair-like tiny space – those atoms are cooled down to nearly absolute zero temperature (about 0.00001 K) using lasers and magnetic field. The team also found a smart way to distinguish the single photon from the noisy background light sea.   The finding brought the dream of an ‘universal’ quantum computer a step closer to reality. Such quantum memories can also be used as repeaters in a quantum network, laying the foundation for a new generation of quantum-based internet.  

“In this work, we code a flying qubit onto the polarization of a single photon and store it into the laser-cooled atoms,” said Prof Du. “Although the quantum memory demonstrated in this work is only for one qubit operation, it opens the possibility for emerging quantum technology and engineering in the future.”

The finding was recently published as a cover story of the authoritative journal Nature Photonics - the latest of a series of research from Prof Du’s laboratory on quantum memory, first begun in 2011.

About The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) (www.ust.hk) is a world-class research university that focuses on science, technology and business as well as humanities and social science.  HKUST offers an international campus, and a holistic and interdisciplinary pedagogy to nurture well-rounded graduates with global vision, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking.  HKUST attained the highest proportion of internationally excellent research work in the Research Assessment Exercise 2014 of Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee, and is ranked as the world’s best young university in Times Higher Education’s Young University Rankings 2018.  Its graduates were ranked 16th worldwide and top in Greater China in Global University Employability Survey 2018.

 

For media enquiries, please contact:
Anita LAM                   
Tel: 2358 6313                    
Email: anitalam@ust.hk       

Johnny TAM
Tel: 2358 8556
Email: johnnytam@ust.hk

University Development |
HKUST School of Science signed a MoU with Sinovation Ventures to establish a Computer Perception and Intelligent Control Lab, propelling AI research and application

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) School of Science signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Sinovation Ventures (Sinovation) to set up a new Computer Perception and Intelligent Control Lab. Prof. Tong ZHANG from Department of Mathematics will lead the research effort of the new laboratory which covers the theories and algorithms of machine learning, as well as Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies that can be leveraged by autonomous systems.

The collaboration serves to bridge together academia and the industry, bringing the robustness and impact of AI research to new heights. The new lab aims to identify issues worth investigating among real-life situations and explore opportunities to translate research outputs to applications in the industry.

The signing ceremony was held on 20 March 2019. In the presence of Dr. Kai-Fu LEE, Chairman & CEO of Sinovation, Mr. Yonggang WANG, Vice-President of AI Institute, Sinovation Ventures, Prof. Wei SHYY, President of HKUST, Prof. Yang WANG, Dean of Science of HKUST, Prof. Tong ZHANG as well as other senior executives, the two parties signed the MoU and exchanged views and visions on AI development.

 

Research and Innovation |
HKUST Researchers Discover More Than 7,000 New Microbial Species Enhancing Our Understanding of Ocean Biodiversity

A group of marine scientists at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) recently discovered over 7,000 new microbial species in the Oceans, including Acidobacteria – a natural medicinal phylum with the CRISPR gene editing system discovered at sea for the first time, shedding new light on human’s understanding of microbial biodiversity in the oceans and bringing hope to the development of new drugs.

Led by Prof. QIAN Peiyuan, Acting Head of Department of Ocean Science and David von Hansemann Chair Professor of Science at HKUST, the University’s research team collaborated with peers from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, University of Georgia in the US and University of Queensland in Australia on sourcing water samples across Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  Over a span of eight years, the team developed biofilms with the water samples on different materials, eventually discovering more than 7,000 new biofilm-forming species and 10 new bacterial phyla – breaking the existing belief that the world has only 35,000 marine microbial species and 80 bacterial phyla[1]. The finding greatly enhanced human’s knowledge in microbial biodiversity of the oceans.

Acidobacteria – one of the new marine phyla identified in this research known only exist in terrestrial soils previously, has been used for developing novel antibiotics and anti-tumor drugs due to its high level of biosynthetic gene clusters.  This newly-discovered marine phylum not only shares functions of its terrestrial counterpart, but is also the first ocean species found to contain the CRISPR gene-editing system. The finding was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The discovery of new marine microbial species has not only improved our understanding of ocean biodiversity, but more importantly, these species have big potential, both in terms of facilitating our understanding of lives and offering new clues to our search of new treatments for diseases,” said Prof. Qian.

CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences found within the genomes of bacterial organisms like Escherichia coli (E-coli); it confers resistance to foreign plasmids or phages and contains gene-editing capabilities.  The CRISPR technology is now widely used in agro-industrial and pharmaceutical genetic engineering, for example, to improve yield for soybeans, corn and rice through the creation of more pollution and natural disaster-resistant crops.

Dr. ZHANG Weipeng, a researcher of the team, said the CRISPR system now available in the terrestrial acidobacteria has accuracy issues as it strays from editing target at times. He hoped the new strain could help overcome such shortcomings and bring about more accurate gene editing technology.  He added, “Acidobacteria is just one of the many newly-discovered microbial species in this project. With further in-depth study, I am sure there will be more exciting findings to come.”

Prof. Qian is an expert in biofilms. He was awarded the second prize of State Natural Science Award 2016 by The State Council for his important discoveries on how biofilms affect the habitat search of marine benthic animals.

For details, please click here: https://youtu.be/wmDZPXe_RuU

[1] Phylum is one of the units of microorganisms, larger than species with 100 known phyla. The Tara Oceans Project, which is recognized as the most authoritative global ocean microbiome research, found there are 35,000 microbial species in the Oceans.

About The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) (www.ust.hk) is a world-class research university that focuses on science, technology and business as well as humanities and social science.  HKUST offers an international campus, and a holistic and interdisciplinary pedagogy to nurture well-rounded graduates with global vision, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking.  HKUST attained the highest proportion of internationally excellent research work in the Research Assessment Exercise 2014 of Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee, and is ranked as the world’s best young university in Times Higher Education’s Young University Rankings 2018.  Its graduates were ranked 16th worldwide and top in Greater China in Global University Employability Survey 2018.

 

For media enquiries, please contact:    

Anita Lam
Tel: 2358 6313
Email: anitalam@ust.hk

Sam Li
Tel: 2358 6317
Email: liyongning@ust.hk

Announcements |
A New Multi-Disciplinary Program - MSc in FinTech

The innovations and rationalizations made possible by digital technology continue to transform the financial services industry. To help prepare skilled professionals and entrepreneurs who will shape a tech-driven future, three HKUST schools have combined their strengths to create a new master’s degree in Financial Technology (MSc in FinTech) Program.

 

For Hong Kong to maintain its position as one of the world’s financial centers, both its well- established and its emerging businesses will need to keep pace with developments in the field of FinTech. However, this will be impossible without talent possessing the new skill sets required (which frequently straddle more than one academic discipline). In the light of this, HKUST Schools of Business and Management (Business School), Engineering, and Science, have come together to launch their new program starting from the 2019-20 academic year.
 
The Deans of the three schools engaged in this exciting new joint collaboration are all enthusiastic about the opportunities that will be available to graduates.
 
“This program combines statistics and data analytics knowledge from the School of Science, expertise in AI and machine learning from the School of Engineering and finance and management knowledge from the School of Business and Management, to equip students with inter-disciplinary skills for the new digital economy,” says Professor WANG Yang, Dean of Science.
 
Professor Tim CHENG, Dean of Engineering, concurs. “The market is looking for talent with business knowledge, programming and data analytical skills, as well as engineering know how, such as in the form of AI skills,” he notes. “This is exactly what we aim to equip our students with in the MSc in FinTech Program.”
 
“Given the pace of technological change and the application of new developments in innovative products and services, the Program will closely track what’s happening in the real world”, Professor TAM Kar-yan, Dean of Business and Management, adds.
 
“We will incorporate cases and group work in students’ assignments and exams, so they can put into practice what they have learned,” he says. “We will also host talks from industry professionals so they can share their experience in the field and keep our students informed of the latest developments.”
 
 
A career launchpad
 
With new technology and innovations competing with the traditional ways of doing business, many companies in the finance sector are now looking for skilled FinTech talent to help them deliver new categories of products and services - or existing ones in a more user friendly and cheaper fashion.
 
Many of the most significant professional bodies are also looking to incorporate FinTech-related areas of expertise into their curricula, with, for example, the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute adding the topics of big data and data analysis to its 2019 exam curriculum.
 
To cater to these needs, the MSc in FinTech curriculum includes a range of core and elective courses run by the three HKUST Schools. The core courses cover essential areas of knowledge including: Corporate Finance, Investment Analysis, FinTech Regulation and Compliance, AI for FinTech, Blockchain, Data Analysis, Financial Data Mining and the Foundations of FinTech.
 
The list of electives offered will be announced at the start of each academic year, but examples include Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, and their business applications; FinTech: Algorithmic Trading; Optimization in FinTech and Statistical Machine Learning.
 
The Program will also offer practical support to students who will soon be in-demand graduates: “We’ll have a professional career service team for our MSc in FinTech students, offering, among other things, workshops on interview skills, career coaching and a placement service. We’ll also lineup internship opportunities, where appropriate,” says Professor Tam.
 
What’s more, he adds, other skills taught in the program are intended to help students stay abreast of developments in FinTech long after they’ve completed their studies.
 
“Universities need to equip students with the latest knowledge possible, while, at the same time, equipping them with the soft skills required for lifelong learning, as they will need to continue to adapt and acquire new knowledge in this fast paced and dynamic industry,” he explains.
 
 
Getting on board
 
The program will offer one-year full-time and two-year part-time study-mode options. A global recruitment drive for the program has begun, with a target of 40 students for the first cohort. These numbers are expected to gradually increase across subsequent intakes.
 
The program fees total HK$300,000, but scholarships will be provided on a case-by-case basis to well-rounded candidates with outstanding academic performances.
 
The profiles of successful applicants for the full-time and part-time programs differ, but all applicants should have gained a bachelor's degree, in any discipline, from a recognized institution, or an approved equivalent qualification. A background in programming and mathematics would be an advantage.
 
Typically, students on the full-time program will be fresh graduates, or those with little work experience, while those studying part-time are likely to be working professionals with at least one year of postgraduate work experience.

To know more about the program at:
http://www.mscfintech.ust.hk/

 

Internationalization & Partnership |
Joining Hand with Pangu BioPharma for New Lung Disease Therapy

Researchers from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) credited with important translational science and early discovery work

Significant opportunity to replicate collaborative model to develop pipeline of extracellular tRNA synthetase therapeutics

SAN DIEGO AND HONG KONG – January 17, 2019 – aTyr Pharma, Inc. (Nasdaq: LIFE), a biotherapeutics company engaged in the discovery and development of innovative medicines based on novel immunological pathways, today recognized the collaboration between its Hong Kong subsidiary, Pangu BioPharma (Pangu), and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) for contributions leading to the discovery of aTyr’s lead clinical candidate, ATYR1923, which is currently being evaluated in a Phase 1b/2a study in patients with pulmonary sarcoidosis. In a joint press conference, aTyr leadership, together with HKUST, recognized researchers from both organizations for their seminal basic and translational research leading to the discovery of extracellular signaling functions of tRNA synthetases.

HKUST researchers with support from Pangu were instrumental in discovering a splice variant of histidyl-tRNA synthetase (HARS) that liberates the smaller, active immuno-modulatory (iMod) domain from the full-length tRNA synthetase and has been shown to modulate the immune system.  ATYR1923 is a fusion protein comprised of the iMod domain fused to the FC region of a human antibody.  To date, researchers at HKUST have discovered over 200 novel compositions that are covered in issued patents and have published six articles detailing their research in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Dr. Sanjay SHUKLA, President, Chief Executive Officer and Director of aTyr, said, “We are advancing our lead candidate ATYR1923 through clinical development in patients suffering from pulmonary sarcoidosis, a rare form of fibrotic lung disease with no known cure and of growing importance worldwide, including China.  We are grateful to HKUST researchers for essential collaborative efforts that made this important milestone possible.”

Prof. ZHANG Mingjie, Chair Professor of the Division of Life Science and Kerry Holdings Professor of Science at HKUST and project coordinator of the Pangu collaboration, commented, “The important discoveries that continue to emerge from this collaboration between Pangu and HKUST serve as an excellent example of the potential role that Hong Kong’s translational science and early discovery capabilities can play in the development of potentially life-changing therapies for patients worldwide.”

Prof. Paul SCHIMMEL, Co-founder and Director of aTyr Pharma and Senior Visiting Fellow at HKUST’s Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), commented, “Our understanding of tRNA synthetase biology was greatly enhanced by the joint efforts of the research teams at aTyr and Pangu/HKUST. We see the potential to replicate this model with many of the novel forms of tRNA synthetases covered in our expansive and largely untapped intellectual property portfolio that includes more than 300 issued or pending patents covering both biologically active variants and engineered forms of human tRNA synthetases.  Each of these protein compositions offers opportunities for potential development of therapeutics to treat a wide array of conditions.”

About ATYR1923
aTyr is developing ATYR1923 as a potential therapeutic for patients with interstitial lung diseases. ATYR1923, a fusion protein comprised of the immuno-modulatory domain of histidyl tRNA synthetase (HARS) fused to the FC region of a human antibody, is a selective modulator of Neuropilin-2 that downregulates the innate and adaptive immune response in inflammatory disease states.  aTyr initiated a proof-of-concept Phase 1b/2a trial evaluating ATYR1923 in patients with pulmonary sarcoidosis in the fourth quarter of 2018.  This Phase 1b/2a study is a multiple-ascending dose, placebo-controlled, first-in-patient study of ATYR1923 that has been designed to evaluate the safety, tolerability, steroid sparing effect, immunogenicity and pharmacokinetics (PK) profile of multiple doses of ATYR1923.  For the Phase 1b/2a trial, aTyr is collaborating with the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research (FSR), the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for sarcoidosis and improving care for sarcoidosis patients. Under the terms of the collaboration, FSR will assist with clinical trial site initiation and patient enrollment.

About Pulmonary Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease characterized by the formation of granulomas, clumps of inflammatory cells, in one or more organs in the body.  Sarcoidosis affects people of all ages, but typically presents before the age of 50 years, with the incidence peaking at 20 to 39 years.  The disorder usually begins in the lungs, skin or lymph nodes, but can affect almost any organ.  Sarcoidosis in the lungs is called pulmonary sarcoidosis and 90% or more of patients with sarcoidosis have lung involvement.  Pulmonary sarcoidosis is a major form of interstitial lung disease (ILD) a group of immune-mediated disorders which cause progressive fibrosis of lung tissue.  Estimates of prevalence vary; however, aTyr believes that approximately 200,000 Americans live with pulmonary sarcoidosis.  The prognosis for patients with pulmonary sarcoidosis ranges from benign and self-limiting to chronic, debilitating disease with mortality.

About The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) (www.ust.hk) is a world-class research university that focuses on science, technology and business as well as humanities and social science.  HKUST offers an international campus, and a holistic and interdisciplinary pedagogy to nurture well-rounded graduates with global vision, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking.  HKUST attained the highest proportion of internationally excellent research work in the Research Assessment Exercise 2014 of Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee, and is ranked as the world’s best young university in Times Higher Education’s Young University Rankings 2018.  Its graduates were ranked 16th worldwide and top in Greater China in Global Employability University Survey 2018.

About aTyr
aTyr is a biotherapeutics company engaged in the discovery and development of innovative medicines based on novel immunological pathways.  aTyr’s research and development efforts are concentrated on a newly discovered area of biology, the extracellular functionality of tRNA synthetases. aTyr has built a global intellectual property estate directed to a potential pipeline of protein compositions derived from 20 tRNA synthetase genes.  aTyr is focused on the therapeutic translation of the Resokine pathway, comprised of extracellular proteins derived from the histidyl tRNA synthetase gene family. ATYR1923 is a clinical-stage product candidate which binds to the neuropilin-2 receptor and is designed to down-regulate immune engagement in interstitial lung diseases and other immune-mediated diseases.  For more information, please visit http://www.atyrpharma.com.

For media enquiries, please contact:

aTyr Pharma, Inc.
Joyce Allaire
Managing Director, LifeSci Advisors, LLC
Email: jallaire@lifesciadvisors.com

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Johnny Tam
Manager (PR & Media)
Email: johnnytam@ust.hk

Internationalization & Partnership |
Fighting Neurodegenerative Diseases

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) together with Boston Children’s Hospital – a Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital (Harvard), the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Stanford University School of Medicine (Stanford), and University College London (UCL) today, signifying a partnership to engage in advanced translational neuroscience research.

The momentous occasion was witnessed by The Hon Mrs. Carrie LAM Cheng Yuet-Ngor, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR); Mr. Andrew LIAO Cheung-Sing, Council Chairman of HKUST; Prof. Wei SHYY, President of HKUST; Mr. Nicholas W YANG, Secretary for Innovation and Technology; and diplomatic representatives including Mr. Andrew HEYN, British Consul General in Hong Kong.

The MoU represents an exciting first step towards a significant strategic partnership among the four renowned institutions to undertake innovative and pioneering translational neuroscience research. They intend to establish the Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and apply to join the Health@InnoHK research cluster program. The Center will provide a synergistic platform for scientists from HKUST, Harvard, Stanford and UCL to consolidate their strengths and expertise, build knowledge and understanding across multiple disciplines through concerted effort, and engage in research with significant societal impact.

Chief Executive of HKSAR Mrs. Carrie Lam said, “This milestone occasion brings together four of the world’s leading universities for – and from three continents – pioneering medical research here in Hong Kong. I am hopeful that the combined excellence and collective commitment and expertise of four of the world’s leading institutions, and their scientists and researchers, can lead to significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.”

HKUST Council Chairman Mr. Andrew Liao expressed his gratitude for the government’s determination in promoting science and research in the city, “The government has committed both funding and efforts to building an environment for Hong Kong’s development in science and innovation.  As a world-class research university, it is our pleasure and responsibility to contribute to the city’s health sector by creating a platform for these top-notch researchers.  I look forward to significant breakthroughs being made by the Center in the near future.”

Addressing the audience, President Prof. Wei Shyy said, “Our partnership with these universities will mark a major step forward in the understanding of neurodegenerative diseases and the development of new diagnostic tools and treatments, which are crucial amid problems posed by an aging population around the world.”

Foundational work at the Center will focus on Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most prevalent neurodegenerative disease and one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the elderly. This incurable disease, which afflicts almost 47 million people worldwide, is rapidly increasing due to aging populations worldwide, and is projected to reach 131.5 million by 2050. While AD exacts a huge financial and emotional toll on patients and their families, the cost of care and loss of productivity from the disease incur massive economic burden to societies.  With one of the longest life expectancies in the world, Hong Kong faces an onslaught of AD cases, especially since 39% of the population will be over the age of 65 by 2050.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a major health crisis of our time but limited knowledge of the disease is hindering the development of urgently-needed diagnostics and therapeutics,” said Prof. Nancy IP, Vice-President for Research and Development at HKUST and the project lead. “The Health@InnoHK initiative provides the ideal platform to bring together leading minds in the field to accelerate progress in understanding this devastating disease. “

Three major inter-related research programs will be initiated with the goals of developing AD biomarkers for disease monitoring and therapeutic strategies, as well as identifying systemic factors and therapeutic targets for treating the disease. By establishing the most advanced technological pipelines, platforms, and models, the multi-institutional project team also aims to generate new insights on disease pathways to drive translational research efforts in developing improved treatments and tools for early diagnosis.

To further expand the breadth of expertise of this initiative, we also have the support of researchers from the University of Tokyo, and have collaborations with local clinicians at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Prince of Wales Hospital, and the Haven of Hope Christian Service in engaging local patient groups, which is critical for the development of personalized medicine.

The Center’s activities will also create immense training opportunities for the next generation of scientists, and in the long run, establish a collaborative scientific hub for neurodegenerative disease research in Hong Kong.

About The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) (www.ust.hk) is a world-class research university that focuses on science, technology and business as well as humanities and social science.  HKUST offers an international campus, and a holistic and interdisciplinary pedagogy to nurture well-rounded graduates with global vision, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking.  HKUST attained the highest proportion of internationally excellent research work in the Research Assessment Exercise 2014 of Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee, and is ranked as the world’s best young university in Times Higher Education’s Young University Rankings 2018.  Its graduates were ranked 16th worldwide and top in Greater China in Global University Employability Survey 2018.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Anita Lam
Tel: 2358 6313
Email: anitalam@ust.hk

Jamie Wong
Tel: 3469 2512
Email: jamiewong@ust.hk

Research and Innovation |
HKUST Researchers Discover Mutation Route That Helps Find New Therapeutic Lead for Deadly Brain Cancer Patients

A research team consisting of scientists from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Beijing Tiantan Hospital have uncovered the mutational mechanism of how a rare and deadly brain cancer –secondary glioblastoma (sGBM) – progresses from its less lethal type.  The groundbreaking finding has provided a therapeutic lead which may develop into a new kind of treatment for chemo-resistant patients.

Among the 200 new cases of aggressive brain tumor recorded in Hong Kong each year by the Hospital Authority, about a quarter are lower-grade glioma (LGG) tumors.  Starting off at nerve cells around the spine and brain, LGG is the early form of sGBM – one of the deadliest brain cancers known today.  While sGBM can be treated with surgery or an oral chemotherapy drug called temozolomide (TMZ) – most of these malign tumors would mutate and return again with mortality rate reaching almost 100 per cent.  Until now, the genomic features and evolution mechanism of the progression from LGG to sGBM remain elusive.

In their latest study, the team led by Prof. WANG Jiguang, Assistant Professor at HKUST’s Division of Life Scienceand Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, identified METex14 mutations at MET oncogene as a major culprit behind this aggressive progression. The team analyzed and integrated the genomic data of 188 sGBM patients – including newly collected samples from Chinese and South Korean patients, with a specially designed computational model and found that about 14% of the sampled sGBM patients displayed mutations in this gene.

Taking reference from this discovery, HKUST’s collaborators – Prof. JIANG Tao and his team from Beijing Neurosurgical Institute and Beijing Tiantan Hospital, identified a drug molecule named PLB-1001 that is able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier – a physiological structure that sees separation of blood circulation and extracellular fluid in the central nervous system – and reach the tumors in the brain.  The molecule shows remarkable potency in selectively targeting sGBM tumors and those displaying further gene mutations.

The clinical trial of PLB-1001 on 18 recurrent patients at late cancer stage returned with a partial positive response in two patients.  After being prescribed a daily dosage ranging from 50 to 300 mg at Beijing Tiantan Hospital, the two patients experienced significant tumor shrinkage, with relieved symptoms and little side effects, lasting for more than 12 weeks.

“More studies on PLB-1001 are needed to see if it can be used in conjunction with other drugs in achieving more persistent results,” said Prof Wang from HKUST.  “But the outcome of this clinical trial is significant in a sense that it furthers the knowledge about sGBM treatment. Developing computational models on cancer evolution helps predict cancer cells’ future behavior and prioritize treatment options, while precision cancer medicine promises to tailor treatments according to personal cancer mutations, although the dynamic changes during cancer evolution add to its complication.  sGBM tumor is high on our target list as it is one of the toughest tumors to treat.”

The findings were published in the top scientific journal Cell on November 29, 2018. This paper is a follow-up work of Prof. Wang’s three recent publications in Nature Genetics (Wang et al. 2016; Lee et al. 2017; Lee et al. 2018).

About The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) (www.ust.hk) is a world-class research university that focuses on science, technology and business as well as humanities and social science.  HKUST offers an international campus, and a holistic and interdisciplinary pedagogy to nurture well-rounded graduates with global vision, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking.  HKUST attained the highest proportion of internationally excellent research work in the Research Assessment Exercise 2014 of Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee, and is ranked as the world’s best young university in Times Higher Education’s Young University Rankings 2018.  Its graduates were ranked 16th worldwide and top in Greater China in Global University Employability Survey 2018.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Anita Lam
Tel: 2358 6313
Email: anitalam@ust.hk

Johnny Tam
Tel: 2358 8556
Email: johnnytam@ust.hk

University Development |
HKUST School of Science received $1,000,000 donation from Space Tactics Commercial Holdings (Group) Co., Limited for research endeavor related to data science

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) School of Science signed a donation agreement with Space Tactics Commercial Holdings (Group) Co., Limited (Space Tactics). Space Tactics and pledged to donate HK$1,000,000 to HKUST in support of research related to data science.

Space Tactics is a multifaceted commercial property corporation based in the mainland China, offering through-chain service including planning, operation and investment. It also keeps up with trends and incorporates elements of culture, art and technology into its commercial property projects.

By exploring the synergy between data science and medical science, Space Tactics anticipates that the research can help improve the population health. With the donation from Space Tactics, HKUST is planning to set up a new laboratory on health data analytics supported by a robust team of research faculty. The new laboratory would also provide a platform for nurturing young researchers.

The donation agreement was signed by Prof. Wang Yang, HKUST Dean of Science and Mr. Alex Wong, Chairman of Space Tactics, at a ceremony held on November 19, 2018, witnessed by representatives from Space Tactics and HKUST.