Prof Danny Chi Yeu Leung, Assistant Professor from the Division of Life Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), was honored with the prestigious Croucher Innovation Award 2017 by the Croucher Foundation for his distinguished scientific research achievements. The award carries a value of HK$5 million over a span of five years. Secretary for Innovation and Technology Mr Nicholas Yang officiated at the award presentation ceremony last Thursday.
Prof Leung’s research focuses on understanding the epigenetic control of non-coding DNA sequences in cancer. One of his major discoveries is that by depleting SETDB1 protein, repressed harmful DNA sequences would be reactivated again, resulting in the death of mouse embryonic stem cells. As mouse embryonic stem cells share molecular commonalities to cancer cells like melanoma, by exploring what SETDB1 does in melanoma cells, the findings would shed lights on potential new cancer therapy. His research also aims to screen for chemicals that could be potential drugs.
“Epigenetic modifications are the chemical changes that can start or stop DNA transcription, essentially turning DNA on or off, without affecting the underlying code. Finding an epigenetic modification that kill cancer specific cells, leaving normal cells unharmed, sheds light on more effective novel avenues of cancer therapy,” Prof Leung said.
Prof Leung joined HKUST as an Assistant Professor in the Division of Life Science in 2015. He received his bachelor degree in human genetics from University College London, and master degree in human molecular genetics from Imperial College London. He then conducted his PhD research on medical genetics under the supervision of Prof Matthew Lorincz in the University of British Columbia, and later his postdoctoral fellowship research under Prof Bing Ren at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. He won Pfizer Inc Emerging Science Fund 2016 and Research Grant Council Early Career Scheme 2016, he was also a fellow of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Established in 2012, the Croucher Innovation Awards aim to identify a small number of exceptionally talented scientists working at an internationally competitive level and to offer substantial support to these “rising stars” at a formative stage in their careers. The scheme is designed to enable recipients to pursue their own scientific, intellectual and professional inclinations, to advance their expertise, to engage in bold new work, and to contribute to the development of education and research in Hong Kong.
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