22 December 2020

CU Medicine Scholar in Neuroscience Receives Croucher Innovation Award 2020



Dr. Ho KO, Assistant Professor of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics and the School of Biomedical Sciences, and Assistant Professor (by courtesy) of the Department of Psychiatry from the Faculty of Medicine at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CU Medicine) has received the Croucher Innovation Award 2020 for his outstanding achievement in neuroscience research. The Award aims to identify 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. Each award carries a value of up to HK$5 million over 5 years for the research expenses of the award winner, encouraging them to contribute to the development of education and research in Hong Kong.

Study to reveal the root of neurodegenerative diseases and identify therapeutic new disease-modifying therapeutics

Neurodegenerative diseases affect tens of millions of people worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are the most common neurodegenerative diseases. Neurodegenerative diseases occur when neurons in the brain or peripheral nervous system become dysfunctional or degenerate over time. With limited potential for regeneration, when neurons are damaged or die, their functions are often lost. Although existing treatments may relieve some of the physical or mental symptoms, there are currently no effective disease modifying therapeutics for the majority of age related neurodegenerative disorders, let alone cures.

Over the years, evidence has accumulated pointing to causal roles of vascular and glial cell dysfunction in various neurodegenerative diseases, yet the precise underlying mechanisms remain incompletely understood. Supported by the Croucher Foundation, Dr. Ko’s team will study the roles of glial and vascular cell dysfunction in the pathogenesis of age related neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, with the aim of identifying new disease modifying therapeutics. Below are the three major goals:

  • Study how the different glial and vascular cells become dysfunctional in aging and neurodegenerative conditions.
  • Uncover how the dysfunctional glial and vascular cells interact with each other and impact neurons.
  • Identify and test potential vascular/glial-targetting drugs for the prevention and treatment of neurodegeneration.

Dr. Ko said, “I am most delighted to receive this honour from the Croucher Foundation which is encouraging to my current research. Our study’s target is to identify new disease modifying therapeutics, providing better care for patients with neurodegenerative diseases at an earlier stage.”

Dr. Ko began his pursuit in medical research from medical school years

Dr. Ho KO is Assistant Dean (Research), Assistant Professor at the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, and the School of Biomedical Sciences of CU Medicine. He is also a principal investigator at the Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences, Associate Director of the Margaret K. L. Cheung Research Centre for Management of Parkinsonism, and Assistant Professor (by courtesy) at the Department of Psychiatry of CUHK. Dr. Ko holds Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB), and Bachelor of Medical Sciences (BMedSc) from CUHK.

In between his preclinical and clinical studies, Dr. Ko pursued a PhD in neuroscience under the supervision of Professor Thomas Mrsic-Flogel at the University College London (UCL), where he worked closely with Professor Sonja Hofer and Dr. Lee Cossell to reveal fundamental rules governing the connectivity between neurons with different functional roles in the brain. He won a runner-up award in the 2014 Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology (with a research summary published in Science), an international award for early career neuroscientists, based on his PhD work,  that has resulted in publications in Nature (four in total, two as first author), Nature Neuroscience (co-first author) and the Journal of Neuroscience (first author), since 2011. In 2020, his team’s research was also published in Nature Communications (corresponding author).

Leading a team with expertise in biology, chemistry and engineering, his current research work focuses on three closely related themes, namely pathogenesis of neurodegenerative conditions, neural circuit principles mediating sensory perception and behaviour, and the development of biomedical imaging tools.

About Croucher Innovation Awards

First presented 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 Awards are 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. Each award carries a value of up to HK$5 million over 5 years for the research expenses of the award winner.

Dr. Ho KO
Dr. Ho KO