About the Hong Kong Laureate Forum

Welcome to the November issue of the newsletter of the Hong Kong Laureate Forum!

It is now less than one year before the inaugural Hong Kong Laureate Forum (the Forum) takes place, open application for the Forum is in full swing. As of today, we have received encouraging responses from young scientists with more than 300 applications from 27 countries / places to join the inaugural Forum. Open application will end on 13 December 2020, so hurry up and don’t miss the opportunity! Apply to become one of the 200 young scientists to join the Forum in the final stretch and be inspired by renowned scientists from around the world.

In our last issue of e-Newsletter, we congratulated Prof Dennis Yuk Ming LO from the Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong for receiving the 2021 Breakthrough Prize, known as the “Oscar of Science”, in Life Sciences for his work in discovering fetal DNA in maternal blood which enables non-invasive prenatal testing. We are very honoured for Prof Lo’s support to take part in a series of short videos for the HKLF and to share his journey in the pursuit of science. The first episode has been uploaded onto our website and social media, stay tuned to the coming episodes and learn more about Prof Lo’s passage to excellence!

Moreover, the 4th round of the Science Hunt online quiz game is now in progress on our Facebook page. Since the launching of the game, we have received positive response from the public with over 1000 participants to the game. Many participants answered all the questions correctly. We are excited to learn that many people in the community are enthusiastic about science and technology. We hope you will continue to support and follow the Forum and share our news with your friends and family so that we can further enhance the public’s interest in science and technology.

The Twists and Turns of Studying a Protein

The central character of the story is a member of a family of proteins for which Professor Robert J Lefkowitz was awarded the Shaw Prize in Life Science & Medicine in 2007, and then in 2012, shared with Professor Brian K Kobilka the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The family is the G Protein-Coupled Receptors (GPCR), the major receptor system that mediates the response of cells and organs to drugs and hormones.

In a group of boys with precocious puberty, an autosomal dominant disorder with 100% penetrance, called Familial Male-limited Precocious Puberty (FMPP) is identified. Early onset of pubertal changes in these boys occur as young as 2-4 years of age triggered by the production of adult level of the male sex hormone, testosterone. On the other hand, prepubertal level of luteinising hormone (LH), the hormone responsible for regulating the production of testosterone at puberty, is observed. Since the abnormality is due to over production of testosterone, the disorder was also called Testotoxicosis when first described clinically. Knowledge of the role of a cell surface receptor, the LH receptor (LHR) in mediating the action of LH in the production of testosterone led to the examination of the receptor in FMPP patients and the subsequent discovery of activating mutations of the receptor. Accidental identification of FMPP patients developing another relatively rare pathological condition, testicular tumor, led to the discovery of a subset of LHR mutations that are tumorigenic. This discovery changes the traditional clinical management of FMPP patients. The final outcome of the story is totally unexpected when the study first started.


Clinical Management of Coronavirus Disease 2019

In previous issues of our e-newsletters, we covered the importance of community health in combating diseases, including the spread of infectious disease (“Health and the Community” by Dr Ben Fong, March 2020 issue) and deliberated the merits of enhancing our innate defense to counter the onslaught of pandemic (“Beyond Vaccine” by Professor Leung Ping-chung. September 2020 issue). For this issue, we turn our attention to the work of Hong Kong’s frontline medical professionals and their experience in combating the pandemic. The article written by Dr Wu Tak Chiu, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases in one of our busiest public hospitals in Hong Kong provides a glimpse of the management approach, the multi-prone treatment methods in dealing with the unprecedented situation.

Indeed, Hong Kong researchers at local universities (and the affiliated teaching hospitals) have been in the forefront of testing drugs to tackle COVID-19. Apart from the treatment of using the combination of three drugs (lopinavir-ritonavir, ribavirin and interferon beta-1b) mentioned in the article by Dr Wu, which was tested by researchers from Hong Kong University (article in The Lancet, 8 May 2020 issue), researchers from the same university have recently announced that a drug used to treat stomach ulcers, ranitidine bismuth citrate (RBC), is shown to reduce the viral loads in coronavirus-infected cells by over 1,000-fold. Whilst the world is still awaiting a new vaccine to combat COVID-19, it is important to look for effective treatment of the virus and our hospitals are continuing their efforts on this front relentlessly.

The emergence of COVID-19 pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge to the world. This article focuses on the clinical management of COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital isolation wards under the Hospital Authority.

Author: Dr Wu Tak Chiu

Consultant and Head, Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Queen Elizabeth Hospital


Prime Numbers and Us

A prime number is a natural number greater than 1 that cannot be written as the product of two natural numbers except 1 and itself. In our daily lives, the applications of mathematics are usually the calculation of elementary arithmetic. There is, therefore, no apparent connection between prime numbers and our daily lives. In fact, there is discernible linkage.

Prime numbers have been a source of mathematical intrigues since time immemorial. Our 2015 Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences, Prof Henryk Iwaniec had successfully delved into the characteristics of prime numbers. Iwaniec’s foundational work and breakthroughs in sieve theory and its applications form a large part of this area of mathematics.

Here comes a question: how do prime numbers relate to our daily lives? In fact, it is hidden stilly in people’s lives.1977, using the unique properties of prime numbers, Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman, three scientists from MIT, derived Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) cryptosystem. RSA is widely used for secure data transmission and digital business such as internet banking, which many of us rely on daily.

Besides the application on data security, we may also find prime numbers in other interesting areas. Periodical cicadas, also known as prime cicadas, is a type of cicadas that spend almost the full length of their life span underground. They only emerge on the ground towards the end of their lifecycle to breed. Their lifecycle can be 7, 13 and 17 years which interestingly are all prime numbers.


Geminid Meteor Shower 2020

Every year, Geminid meteor shower is active during the period from early to mid-December. The peak this year is expected to occur from the night on 13 December to the morning on 14 December. The Zenithal Hourly Rate* is projected to be as high as 150.

What is meteor shower?
A meteor is a phenomenon in which cosmic debris called meteoroids entering Earth’s atmosphere at extremely high speed. A meteor shower is celestial event in which many meteors appear in night sky when the Earth encounters a large number of meteoroids. These meteoroids are all traveling in relatively parallel orbit and at the same velocity, so they will all appear to an observer below to radiate away from a single point in the sky, this single point is called radiant point. The meteors in this mid-December shower appear to come from the radiant point in the constellation Gemini, hence it is called Geminid meteor shower.

Extraterrestrial Meteor Showers
There is different size of meteor showers observable on Earth every year, apart from the Geminid meteor shower, some famous ones include Perseid meteor shower, Leonid meteor shower, Orionid meteor shower and Quadrantid meteor showers etc.

Any other Solar System body with a reasonably transparent atmosphere can also have meteor showers and Mars is one of them. Although the Martian atmosphere is less than 1% of the density of Earth’s at ground level, at their upper edges where meteoroids strike, the two are more similar. In 2004, the panoramic camera on Mars Exploration Rover Spirit recorded a streak on Mars which is believed to have been caused by a meteor from a Martian meteor shower associated with comet 114P/Wiseman-Skiff.

Observing Meteor Shower
Moon phase is one of the factors that determines the observation condition of meteor shower. The moon will be very close to be a new moon in mid-December this year, the night will not be affected by moonlight and therefore the observation condition of Geminid meteor shower is expected to be excellent. A darker sky is more favourable to meteor observation, it will be good to find a place with little light pollution and a wide field of view, you should then lie down and look up at the sky with bare eyes. The wider the view of the sky, the higher the chance to see more meteors. Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy one of the most anticipated meteor shower this year!

*Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) is the hypothetical hourly rate of meteors observable in an extremely dark, open and clear sky with the radiant located at the zenith. As it is only an ideal rate, in practice, observed rates will definitely be lower than the ZHR.