The demand for regenerative medicine has been growing with human’s life spans and the increasing complexity of various types of diseases. However, healthcare professionals have yet to utilise the potential of regenerative medicine. When the technology is ready, regenerative medicine can ideally repair dead heart cells from a heart attack or regenerate irreparable nerve tissues from spinal cord trauma.

Hong Kong is trying to position itself as the frontier of regenerative medicine. In 2016, the Research Grants Council has committed US$33 million for higher education institutions to undertake stem cell and regenerative medicine projects. Currently, the city is also in collaboration with internationally-renowned institutions including Stanford, Harvard, John Hopkin’s University and the famous Karolinska Institutet (KI) of Sweden.

Ming Wai Lau Centre set to be the hub for researching regenerative medicine

The establishment of the Ming Wai Lau Centre for Reparative Medicine was considered a milestone in regenerative medicine in Hong Kong. The centre, which is the first overseas branch of the Sweden-based KI, opened in October last year.

Karolinska Institutet’s first research hub outside of Sweden, Ming Wai Lau Centre for Reparative Medicine was inaugurated in Hong Kong in October last year. (Photo Credit:  Karolinska Institutet)
Karolinska Institutet’s first research hub outside of Sweden, Ming Wai Lau Centre for Reparative Medicine was inaugurated in Hong Kong in October last year. (Photo Credit: Karolinska Institutet)

“We believe that people who are skilled in this area will be attracted by the new centre. Research today is all about partnerships, especially for newly established groups. Much of the best stem cell research today is being done in Asia, and KI wants to be a part of it,” said Dr. Ola Hermanson, scientific director of the new center. He added that such dynamic collaboration will increase the chances of producing ground-breaking researches.

Besides research, both the Ming Wai Lau centre and KI are working together to outline extensive academic programmes such as joint doctorate courses and scientific workshops and conferences.

Can Hong Kong be at the forefront of regenerative medicine?

Regenerative medicine encompasses technologies such as cell transplantation, stem cell biology, tissue engineering, and biomechanical prosthetics. It is still a young and growing field. Compared to other medical fields that made their history centuries ago, the first bone marrow transplant was only performed in 1968.

The first lab-grown organ – an artificial bladder that was gifted to a patient suffering from myelomeningocele was considered a big leap in the history of regenerative medicine. A new liver was also produced by growing liver cells on cellular frames in 2009.

Another notable achievement is the formation of the Musculoskeletal Regeneration Research Network, an international effort that works on researching tendinopathies and developing medicine that may regenerate cartilage in osteoarthritis.

There are also some local initiatives going on in Hong Kong. Since 2007, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has been collaborating with Jinan University on regenerative medicine. Their partnership recently culminated the establishment of a jointly run Ministry of Education Key Laboratory of Regenerative Medicine in 2016. In addition, researchers at The University of Hong Kong (HKU) are also working on the regeneration of heart cells with human embryonic stem cells.

“With the longest life expectancy in the world, Hong Kong certainly stands to benefit from biomedical and regenerative therapies for health conditions such as degenerative diseases… Stem cell and regenerative medicine holds vast potential for the betterment of life. Working together - the government, the academia, the industry and the community together - we can build that future,” remarked Chief Executive CY Leung, at the Hong Kong and Guangzhou International Conference on Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine in December 2016. MIMS

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