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Infection and Immunology

Emerging threats to human health, such as influenza and SARS, have come under the global spotlight in recent years. HKU is at the heart of research to identify, understand and control these infectious agents.

HKU scientists have reported internationally significant findings on infectious diseases over the past decade. They traced the origin of the SARS coronavirus to horseshoe bats, identified 22 other novel coronaviruses, and discovered more than 40 other novel viruses in animals that could have implications for human health. That track record and the expertise that underpins it – with members from Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering and Science – are providing a platform for new breakthroughs in infectious diseases, with a particular focus on the following areas:

Viruses
Our scientists are working on genomic and metagenomic studies to help explain the origin and interspecies transmission (animal-to-animal and animal-to-human) of new and emerging viruses from the animal kingdom.

Fungi
Work is proceeding on the fungus Penicillium marneffei, which can cause respiratory, skin and other complications in patients with compromised immune systems, often with fatal results. Our scientists have published the genome sequence and other findings on P. marneffei and are investigating its virulence properties and the possible role of microRNAs in regulating its gene expression.

Oral microbiome
The mouth contains about 500 species of microbes and provides a welcome environment for infectious agents, so our scientists plan to profile changes in oral microbiota in response to oral and systemic diseases and conditions, especially those affecting the elderly. They also plan to investigate therapeutic and surgical interventions.

Crunching the data
New technology has made available huge amounts of data about how a microbial community affects disease. Our scientists aim to develop software tools to help in the analysis and understanding of this information.

Microbial chemical genetics
Chemical genetics has been applied at HKU to identify and characterise a small molecule compound that inhibits the cellular trafficking of influenza A virus nucleoprotein. Further studies will target this compound and modulate the virulence of the virus. The chemical genetic approach is also being extended to bacterial virulence, with a focus on Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is resistant to most antibiotics.

Related major work at the University includes a Partner State Key Laboratory for Emerging Infectious Diseases and a Theme-based Research Scheme project on 'Molecular Basis for Interspecies Transmission and Pathogenesis of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus'.

Infection and Immunology
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We have developed a pipeline of genome sequencing, bioinformatics analysis, database construction and post-genomics work and we now want to put that to productive use. The novel projects that we have proposed will change our understanding in their respective fields.

Professor P.C.Y. Woo,
Corresponding Co-Convenor

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CONVENORS:

Professor P.C.Y. Woo* (Microbiology)

Dr R.M. Watt (Dentistry)

Professor K.Y. Yuen (Microbiology)

* Corresponding Co-Convenor