|Year 2016||Year 2015||Year 2014|
Name: CHUNG, Hae Jon
Attachment: Cell Biology Department, Yale University
Period: 01 June - 10 August 2016
During the summer of 2016, I spent ten weeks in Professor Sandra Wolin’s laboratory in the Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine in Yale University under the GPS overseas research internship program. The Wolin Lab specializes in investigating the pathways related to RNA degradation, particularly mechanisms involving the Ro 60 kDa protein. Ro 60 kDa is implicated in many autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome, and while it is clinically significant, its functions and pathways in eukaryotic cells are still largely unknown. My project was to determine the exoribonucleases implicated in the Ro60-dependent RNA degradation pathway in human cells, which is the first step in further examination of the mechanism in mammalian cells.
By conducting this project, I gained knowledge on the Ro-dependent RNA degradation pathway. I was able to appreciate the complexity involved in the control of gene expression while reading scientific articles on related topics and correlating that to my findings. By combining results presented in different articles with my data, I was able to build a multifaceted understanding of intricate and enigmatic metabolic pathways.
Throughout the ten weeks, I learned techniques ranging from Western Blot to real-time PCR as well as solve problems related to scientific experiments. My supervisor kindly showed me the different scientific research methods and patiently corrected my techniques. These are techniques frequently implemented in biomedical research, especially in the area of molecular biology which I am interested in further exploring.
Other than the scientific aspects of my project, I also treasure the interactions I had in Yale in a research environment. The members of the lab were all willing to show and teach me a range of techniques they used in their experiments, as well as tricks and precautions when practicing different methods. They were very enthusiastic about their research and had taught me immensely using their years of experiences. In addition, they would also share their expertise in team meetings to aid the research projects of others, either by suggesting possible future directions or by noting ways to improve the data to generate publishable results. The collaborative effort of the lab members created an environment that was conducive to both learning and furthering scientific knowledge.
I must thank Prof. Sandra Wolin, all the wonderful people in the Wolin Lab, and the Faculty of Medicine at CUHK for this valuable and fruitful experience. The internship was very memorable, and not only allowed me to immerse in a diverse culture with top researchers, but also strengthened my interest in molecular medicine and its clinical applications. The skills and knowledge I have gained during the internship will definitely support me in my future efforts in research, as I aspire to continue on the path of research in genetics and its translation into the clinical setting.
Name: KWAN, Tsz Pui Nelson
Attachment: Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM), University of Oxford
Period: 20 June - 12 August 2016
Searching in the boundless darkness, with a little faith, I try to catch the tiny bright “stars” that pierce through the tranquility.
Being a “star seeker” has been my job during my times in the University of Oxford, a place that nurtures the stellar intelligences and shines on the human civilization.
In the summer of 2016, I am grateful to complete a 2-month GPS summer research internship in Professor David Beeson’s Congenital Myasthenia Syndromes (CMS) Laboratory of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience, at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM). The main research focus of Prof. Beeson’s group includes the pathophysiology and the treatment of CMS, a rare inherited neuromuscular disorder that can be caused by several types of genetic defects at the neuromuscular junction, leading to muscle weakness.
Neuroscience has been famous for being a fast-changing field with lots of unknowns. Under Prof. Beeson and Dr. Judith Cossins' supervision, I conducted a neuroscience project in a molecular biological approach to screen for potential drugs that might increase expression of the neuromuscular junction protein DOK7, which can help downstream clustering of ACh receptors in the neuromuscular junction, so as to help treat congenital myasthenic syndromes. Fluorescence microscopy was the major method in the screening, and effective drugs will lead to fluorescent shining cells - the “stars” that I have been looking for.
Apart from my research project, life in Oxford is definitely exciting that it is an international hub for academics. Therefore, it is possible to meet with people all around the world in Prof Beeson’s group, in WIMM or even the downtown of Oxford (sort of Oxford's “central campus”), to have both cultural and academic exchange - from specific academic events like grand rounds and seminars for intellectual exchange, to casual discussion about anything happening in the world such as world politics and corresponding home country’s culture, and to having fun time in the institute like joining their summer party, table tennis tournament and salsa class, and even random chat about Brexit in a pizza shop with an Oxford student reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Hence, it is undoubtedly enjoyable to stay in this beautiful city with scholarly atmosphere and classy environment.
To me, researcher is like the Sisyphus in Greek mythology. It only takes you several seconds to look at the located stars, but as a pioneer, very often many years are spent to look for them, with uncountable failed attempts. Apart from the intellectual challenges encountered throughout the exploration, perseverance, passion and determination are inevitable for the unlimitedly repeating attempts. This is definitely one of the most impressive experiences in the research process, which is actually also true for medical studies and many things that we encounter in life.
Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to Professor David Beeson’s group, WIMM and the CUHK Faculty of Medicine, for their guidance in allowing me to get a taste of medical research, definitely bringing me a fruitful experience, as the shining Polaris in the boundless dark sky that guides me in my medical studies and my possible future path of clinician-scientist.
This photo was taken in Christ Church, University of Oxford. I enjoyed every moment in this beautiful scholastic city.
This photo was taken on the last day of my internship at the tearoom of the building, where the laboratory members normally had lunch together. On my last day, I prepared some Hong Kong local food, introducing the Hong Kong food culture to them. The laboratory members include neurologists, veterinarians and neuroscientists from different countries, namely Belgium, Norway, Austria,Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.
This photo was taken at the entrance of the building of Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM).
Name: SUNG, Joanne Chung Yan
Attachment: Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM), University of Oxford
Period: 4 July 2016 - 19 August 2016
Over the summer of 2016, I was given the invaluable opportunity to attach to the Molecular Haematology Unit of WIMM under Professor Paresh Vyas, through the GPS summer internship program.
Professor Vyas is a physician-scientist, and he and his team’s main interest is translational research involving various hematological diseases, such as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Myelodysplastic Syndrome. Through understanding more about normal hematopoiesis and genetic and epigenetic variations among patients, they hope to develop novel treatment options and improve patient care. In particular, I chose to work with Professor Vyas and his team as their lab does a lot of stem cell research, which I feel is an important field/skill that may play an important role in future medical research.
In the beginning, I rotated around the lab to learn from different post-docs and PhD students, trying to understand the different projects that the sub-teams were working on as well as acquire laboratory skills. These include tissue banking, DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing, barcoding stem cells by transfection, cell culture and fluorescent activating cell sorting. Afterwards, I assisted 3 sub-teams in their work, which ranged from studying normal hematopoiesis to assessing drug effectiveness in an AML clinical trial. At first, I was closely guided and supervised by my fellow colleagues; but afterwards I was given a lot of autonomy, where I was simply given a task, and I had to plan out and perform it independently. It was definitely a satisfying experience to see myself grow and learn so much by the time I completed the internship.
Besides acquiring technical and analytical skills, I was intrigued by the academic atmosphere of WIMM, where researchers were encouraged to join multiple seminars and had journal clubs and lab meetings each week. My fellow colleagues were also very driven at work, fueled by their passion for their research interest. It was also inspiring to see how different sub-teams of the Vyas lab complement each other in terms of skills and knowledge, which was well demonstrated in the lab setting as well as journal clubs, where they would offer advice, suggestions and helpful criticisms towards each other.
Finally, I would like to thank Vyas’s lab, WIMM and CUHK for this enriching experience, which allowed me to work with and learn from elite researchers around the world. In the future, I hope to further develop my skills and interest, and participate in translational research that will help improve patient care and clinical practice.
Name: KUAN, David Junior
Attachment: CCOUC Trip to Xishuangbanna, Yunnan
Period: March 2016
On March 12th to March 17th, 2016, I had the privilege to embark on a six-day humanitarian medical trip to a remote village called Manbangtang, situated in Xishuangbanna (西雙版納), Yunnan. Organized by the Collaborating Centre for Oxford University and CUHK (CCOUC), the trip consisted of 38 participants from an extensive range of backgrounds, including medical students from CUHK and HKU, public health students, a pharmacy student, registered nurses, and even four visiting students from the Harvard school of public health.
As CCOUC's fourth trip into this particular village for their ethnic minority health project, there were a multitude of overall objectives that were fulfilled in our visit. The team spent two days conducting questionnaires evaluating the residents' living environment, health practices, effectiveness of previous visits and interventions, and demographics. A health intervention was organized for the third day in the village, teaching the villagers the importance of limiting salt intake, preparing a disaster kit, and cutting down on smoking. In addition to our humanitarian work, we underwent a series of training sessions and masterclasses organised by both CCOUC and Yunnan Medical University, teaching us about the cultural intricacies of Xishuangbanna, China's public health system, public health on a global scale, and more.
During this six-day trip, I have gotten to know a swarm of interesting and fascinating people, all of whom have contributed to my constantly revised understanding and projections towards the future. A couple of key reflections particularly stood out in this trip, of which I would like to share here.
In the context of an increasingly globalized world (and in a "global stream!"), it has always fascinated me how people originating from diverse backgrounds can connect with each other. In this trip I discussed politics with an American, exclaimed quotes from famous movies with a Brazilian, and shared experiences with an Austrian. I shared a room with a student who had studied in four different countries. No longer is humanitarian work, even in a scale as bottom-up as conducting surveys in a remote village in rural china, strictly a local endeavour: I have learned that the heart to help others knows no national boundaries.
But what I am reminded most of from this trip is the vast complexity and variance in culture we can get within our own country. It is easy to hold a nation to a particular stereotype when we dream amongst the global scale; we often fail to realize just how beautiful and elaborate our own country can be. Even with our translators, who are all fluent with Mandarin, Yunnan dialect and the ethnic 'dai' language, we still faced the struggle of communicating with the villagers as they had their own 'blang' dialect. The written words resemble Thai rather than Han characters, illegible to people like me. Their local medical practices are equally fascinating: whereas the typical western practitioner would suggest oral rehydration solutions (water + sugar + salt) for treating diarrhea, the village had their own method of boiling guava leaves for the same effect. There is so much that we, as medical students or just as normal people, can learn by observing the culture of others.
The above learning should not be thought of as a unilateral benefit either, because if we remain observant and humble, that is when the greatest change can occur. Our interviews with the villagers were not discussions, per se, but rather conversations. Each villager had their own unique and memorable story that should be heard, and in return, the trust that we had established led directly to in-depth responses and showing up for our intervention, the first step towards changing their long-standing habits and practices. Professor Jiao Feng of Yunnan University perhaps summarized this the best: "欲化農民，先農民化".
This trip has also solidified the necessity for public health in my mind. It is easy to adopt a defeatist attitude and believe that "no matter how much NGOs and humanitarian groups can try, they can never change the habits of a population". How can we, a small group of students and health workers, stop people from following a habit as ingrained into Chinese culture as smoking? Surely it can never happen!
It can happen. I now believe it can happen. I have become convinced that change is possible after this trip, and that all our efforts are not in vain. To quote a good friend of mine (fellow GPS student Dawnie Lau): "I discovered the meaning of conducting public health fieldwork - the point being that one should not do public health work for the sake of witnessing a direct outcome, but rather, do something that you believe is worthwhile and correct."
I remember the face of one villager after I, playing the role of a deadbeat smoker addict, threw my makeshift cigarette prop in an act of defiance and exclaimed that I would quit smoking. His once cheerful demeanour turned into an expression of shock and distress; I knew the message had gotten to him. Even if only one villager vowed to quit their ways, it is one villager more than if we never even tried. To quote Professor Jiao Feng again: "做，未必會有成果；不做，必定不會有成果。"
To those reading this reflection, I implore you to take the time to explore all the opportunities given to you, even if humanitarian endeavours are not on your mind (it certainly was not on mine beforehand!). After all, how can you "purify your passion", as Professor Vincent Mok eloquently put, if you never try out all your options?
I would like to thank the faculty, CCOUC staff, and in particular Professor Emily Chan, for allowing me to participate in this unforgettable trip. Here's to hoping that there is more for the future.
Name: LAU, Dawnie Ho Hei
Attachment: CCOUC Trip to Xishuangbanna, Yunnan
Period: March 2016
The first step to my medical humanitarian journey ~ Yunnan
This CCOUC trip to Xishuangbanna has truly been an eye opening, inspirational and motivational experience for me. Not only did it “purify my passion” for humanitarian work (as Professor Vincent Mok perfectly puts it), but it has also allowed me to find my way amidst the heavy fog that kept me in the dark for the past few months.
Honestly speaking, I was very lost when I started medical school last September. Adjusting to a new university lifestyle proved to be a challenge, and I was also overwhelmed by the tightly packed curriculum and dense content of the medical course. In the very beginning, I managed to cope via my escape of running, but after getting injured, the heavy workload began taking its toll on me, and I gradually lost the burning fire of determination and passion within me. In the back of my mind, I knew that I loved humanitarian work, but with the impeding doom of mock exams, I had no idea where, when and how I could start off on this path.
Out of the blue came this golden opportunity, and I am extremely grateful to Carol, Sida and Clare for giving me the chance to be a part of such a marvellous and diverse CCOUC team. Thank you very much for letting me gain exposure to the field public health, and for giving me this opportunity to gain insight to the prospect of humanitarian work. Although I know this is just the tip of the iceberg, it is great to have a starting point and a compass to guide me towards what could possibly be my future.
Through the series of pre-trip training sessions, Yunnan University empowerment training programme and master classes, I learnt about some of the fundamental principles underlying public health. I realised the importance of having cultural sensitivity and showing respect to others on field, and became aware of how humanitarian work is closely tied with both SDGs and the global efforts of public health. Additionally, I discovered the meaning of conducting public health fieldwork - the point being that one should not do public health work for the sake of witnessing a direct outcome, but rather, do something that you believe is worthwhile and correct: 做，未必會有成果；不做，必定不會有成果。(Professor Jiao Feng)
Nonetheless, it was through my experience in conducting the evaluation fieldwork, and the process of planning, preparing and executing the health intervention (as both a group member of disaster preparedness and an emcee) where I took away many important life lessons and skills. I came to realise that public health is an extremely challenging field, which deals with populations at large, and aims to shift paradigms to clear up misconceptions in target communities. I also discovered that being an emcee and organising even a small intervention event in a rural village is not an easy task, which would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of the entire team. Not only are there logistical and security concerns, but the long list of uncertainties also makes fieldwork unpredictable and difficult to plan for. This has shown me the importance of being observant, flexible and adaptive to different circumstances, which are important skills I will carry away with me in the future.
I would like to extend my thanks to Professor Emily Chan and Professor Sian Griffins for providing me with such a wonderful learning opportunity and for being such inspirational figures to all of us. I would also like to thank CCOUC, the staff team (Tony, Carol, Sida, Clare, Gloria, Kelvin, Carman, Professor Bill Goggins, Pong, Guily, John, Eric and Joyce) for organising the trip and keeping us safe, as well as our wonderful team (Felix, Grace, Marco, Belle, Rainbow, David, Jane, Jeremy, Eric, Nancy, Dianne, Han, Sherman, Tobi, Zero, Irene, Emily, Stephanie, Christina and Aaron) for supporting me and accompanying me as I begin my journey in the humanitarian field.
It has truly been an honour meeting such experienced and passionate individuals from CUHK, HKU and Harvard, and I am glad to have had this opportunity to work with and learn from all of them. Now that my passion has been reignited, I hope to seize more chances to work with CCOUC and also take part in other voluntary humanitarian service trips, to broaden my vision and increase my exposure to the field, so I can gain more experience, skills and knowledge in preparation for my future.