Inaugural Croucher Professorship in Medical Science lecture by Professor Siew Ng: A Magical Pursuit
Professor Siew Ng from the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)’s Faculty of Medicine (CU Medicine) has been named the Croucher Professor in Medical Sciences, the very first named professorship bestowed in the name of Croucher Foundation. In the inaugural lecture, Professor Ng, a world-renowned clinician-scientist studying the gut microbiome, shared her life journey as a scientist and an entrepreneur, and the highs and lows in her pursuit of her dream as a “microbe hunter”.
Establishing Asia’s first microbiota transplantation and research centre
The human gut is like our second brain. We each have more microbe genes in bodies than our own genes. Over the past decade, Professor Ng has shown that the gut microbiome is closely related to a number of common human diseases. She and her team have transformed her research findings into non-invasive diagnostic tools and microbiome therapeutics.
Professor Ng first became intrigued with the germs in the gut during her PhD studies at Imperial College London 10 years ago. She joined CU Medicine in 2010 and started studying a chronic gut disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which was growing in Asia. She and her team were the first to define the burden of IBD in Asia. She showed that the number of IBD cases had surged by 30 times in Hong Kong in three decades. She also discovered that this increase is due to changes in lifestyle and diet impacting the human gut microbiome. In 2013, she introduced faecal microbiota transplantation in Hong Kong to treat patients with a life-threatening intestinal infections. In 2018, she established Asia’s first microbiota transplantation (FMT) and research centre, which now serves as the sole provider of FMT services to all 40 hospitals run by the Hospital Authority in Hong Kong. In 2019, she established the Microbiota I-Center (MagIC) under the HKSAR Government’s InnoHK initiative and co-founded a biotechnology company that focuses on translating innovative microbiome solutions into effective diagnostics and therapeutics.
Professor Ng said, “We have only begun to unleash the potential power of our gut microbes. Science is proving that an imbalanced gut microbiome can trigger many different health problems. We have identified novel bacteria signatures in the stool that can accurately detect colon cancer, IBD, autism and long COVID-19 early, when treatment or cure is possible. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Croucher Foundation for granting me the Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowships in 2020 to further my research on IBD. I am very honoured and humbled to be the first recipient of the Croucher Professorship in Medical Science. It marks an important milestone in my academic and research career. The path to discovery is long but it is important to leave no stone unturned if we want to make important discoveries. I plan to dedicate myself to medical research and to contribute to the improvement of people’s health in Hong Kong and beyond.”
Siew Ng’s Journey from Malaysia to the United Kingdom to Hong Kong
Professor Ng has been fascinated by the human body since she was a child. Born in Penang, Malaysia, she went to the United Kingdom to study medicine and completed a PhD in 2009. In 2010, she moved to Hong Kong and joined CU Medicine. She said, “I am fortunate to have had many opportunities in my life and to wear multiple hats at the same time: a clinician, a scientist, a mentor and an entrepreneur. Coming to Hong Kong is like a dream come true. The city has a pool of world-renowned scientists and clinicians, an inspiring research environment and an innovative culture which provides a fertile environment for me to explore. This is a golden time to pursue a research career in Hong Kong.”
In 2019, Professor Ng co-founded her own biotechnology company, Geniebiome, which focuses on providing microbiome diagnostic tests and treatment. She said, “Setting up my own venture, as opposed to licensing my discoveries to other parties, has enabled me to maximise the benefits of my research for the development of Hong Kong’s innovation and technology industry. This is just the beginning: we will continue to crack the microbiome Da Vinci Code for various human diseases.”
Professor Ng is currently the Assistant Dean (Development) of CU Medicine; Professor, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics; Associate Director of the Centre for Gut Microbiota Research; and Director of the Microbiota I-Center (MagIC). She has published more than 320 peer-reviewed papers in international journals, including The Lancet, Nature Genetics and Cell Host & Microbe. Her research has received numerous awards, including the 2017 Sir David Todd Lectureship and 2020 Ministry of Education Higher Education Outstanding Scientific Research Output Award. She was named a Highly-cited Researcher by Clarivate for three consecutive years, from 2020 to 2022. Recently she received the Higher Flyer Innopreneur Award and the Most Popular Innopreneur Award from the Federation of Hong Kong Industries.