Prof. Liu appointed to endow Cheng Professorship in Science
Prof. Kai Liu, an associate professor of LIFS at HKUST, was appointed the Cheng Professorship in Science. His academic work is focused on neuroscience, specifically on discovering ways to regenerate axons in damaged spinal cords. Spinal cord injury is one of the greatest medical challenges facing mankind because unlike amphibians or fish, humans are incapable of regenerating damaged nerve cells in the spinal cord. It is estimated that tens of millions of people living with spinal cord injuries in the world.
Prof. Liu is fascinated by the fact that our liver tissue can regenerate, but not the nerve cells in our ears, eyes, and spinal cord. So he is exploring ways of axon regeneration through stimulating neurons chemically and genetically.
He commented, usually neurons inside the brain do not die after spinal cord injury. If a way could be found to restore the spinal cord connection, its function in motor control and sensation could be restored.
So far he has produced encouraging results on the mouse models, in which for the first time he was able to induce motor axon regeneration in the spinal cord from injuries up to 1 year ago. He sees the promise of stimulating neuronal activity and is also actively looking for more effective drug targets. Nonetheless, as optimistic as we can be, we are still a long way from carrying out clinical trials for humans.
Prof. Liu is one of the exciting young scientists in LIFS at HKUST to ask big questions on important scientific areas. He is very much concerned about the big picture in scientific research and has something to say about the intellectual longevity of scientists.
For many exceptional scientists, the research cycle can take decades for one major discovery. It will already be fortunate for many of them having two such cycles in their entire career. It is crucial to encourage scientists to engage in basic, long-term research by giving much-needed financial support. – Prof. Liu
On the translational side, there is an even much wider financial gap between research and clinical application. It is unrealistic to “spend a little money to do big things”. Another condition conducive to research productivity is a critical mass of peers tackling research of a significant scale. Such a community of fellow researchers creates an exciting research environment. Local scientific researchers can definitely rise to the challenge with proper support. Also, Hong Kong scientists need to step out of the research laboratory to educate the public about the importance of scientific research.
Prof. Liu received high-quality Chinese undergraduate education at Peking University and a doctoral degree program at Rutgers University in the United States. After his postdoctoral training at Children’s Hospital in Boston, which is affiliated with the Harvard Medical School, he now works in LIFS at HKUST. His research has been featured in distinguished publications, such as the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences, Science Advances, and Journal of Neuroscience.
For more information on The University’s Named Professorship program, please visit https://np.ust.hk for more details.