CUHK Professor Siew Ng becomes the first clinician-scientist in Hong Kong to be selected as a New Cornerstone Investigator
Professor Siew Ng from The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)’s Faculty of Medicine (CU Medicine) was selected as a 2023 New Cornerstone Investigator under The New Cornerstone Investigator Program, which is a non-profit and independent fund initiated by Tencent. She is the first and only Hong Kong scholar in the field of Biology and Biomedical Sciences to receive the honour since the launch of the programme. Professor Ng will be awarded an initial five-year term grant with an annual budget of 5 million RMB for experimental research.
The New Cornerstone Investigator Program is one of the largest independent, nonprofit funding initiatives in mainland China. Based on the principle of “supporting people, not projects”, the programme aims to provide stable long-term support for a select group of exceptional scientists to carry out basic research, and take the leap “from 0 to 1”.
Approximately 600 outstanding scientists applied this year. After several rounds of rigorous evaluation by national and international experts, they chose 46 scientists from 13 Chinese cities in the fields of Mathematics & Physical Sciences and Biological & Biomedical Sciences to receive New Cornerstone Investigator Program funding.
Creating a paradigm shift in microbiome medicine
Professor Ng is a world-renowned researcher of the gut microbiome. Born in Penang, Malaysia, she went to the United Kingdom to study medicine, completing her PhD in 2009. In 2010, she moved to Hong Kong and joined CU Medicine. Professor Ng is currently the Assistant Dean (Development) of CU Medicine; a Professor in the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics; Associate Director of the Centre for Gut Microbiota Research; and Director of the Microbiota I-Center (MagIC). She has also been appointed the Croucher Professor in Medical Sciences, the very first named professorship bestowed by the Croucher Foundation.
Professor Ng first became intrigued with the germs in the gut during her PhD studies at Imperial College London and devoted herself to studying Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), a chronic gastrointestinal disease that was then prevalent in the West but virtually unknown in Asia. With an indomitable spirit of curiosity, Professor Ng and her team were the first to define the epidemiology of IBD in Asia and reported that the incidence in Hong Kong had risen a staggering 30-fold in less than three decades. Since joining CU Medicine, she has been leading researchers from over 30 countries and regions in the Asia-Pacific region as they study the disease, bringing about a paradigm shift in public health regionally and globally. In 2021, global physician directory Expertscape listed Professor Ng as one of the world’s top 20 IBD researchers.
In 2013, Professor Ng introduced fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) to Hong Kong to treat patients with life-threatening gut infections. In 2018, she established Asia’s first FMT research centre, which now serves as the sole provider of FMT services to more than 40 hospitals managed by the Hospital Authority in Hong Kong. In 2019, Professor Ng established the Microbiota I-Center (MagIC) as part of the HKSAR Government’s InnoHK initiative, and founded a biotechnology company that focuses on translating innovative microbiome solutions into effective diagnostics and therapeutics.
A receipient of landmark accolades and international honours in recent years
As a highly accomplished researcher, Professor Ng has published over 330 peer-reviewed papers in international journals, including The Lancet and Nature Genetics. Her research has received numerous awards, including the 2017 Sir David Todd Lectureship and the 2020 Ministry of Education Higher Education Outstanding Scientific Research Output Award – First-class Award in Natural Sciences, China’s highest honour in the field. She was named a highly cited researcher by analytics company Clarivate for three consecutive years, from 2020 to 2022, demonstrating significant and broad influence in her field of study through the publication of multiple papers which ranked in the top 1% by citations during the last decade. Recently, she received the Higher Flyer Innopreneur Award and the Most Popular Innopreneur Award from the Federation of Hong Kong Industries for her outstanding leadership in innovative technology.
Inspiring the next generation of scientists to join the quest for breakthrough discoveries
Professor Ng said she is grateful to be selected as a New Cornerstone Investigator. “This programme is unique and is not bounded by defined research projects or deadlines, allowing scientists the freedom and flexibility to develop wild ideas, explore uncharted territory and set foot in scientific areas where no one has ventured before. To answer the fundamental question of how the food we eat regulates the trillions of microbes in the gut that trigger inflammation and immune dysfunction, I will explore diet-microbiome-immune interactions to understand immunoregulatory mechanisms in response to dietary antigens, and introduce a new paradigm of novel therapeutic targets for chronic inflammatory and immune-mediated diseases.”
As one of the only five female scientists selected this year, representing 10% of the total, Professor Ng added that she feels deeply honoured. “I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the committee for their recognition of our team’s effort. I am most grateful to my family, mentors and collaborators, who have inspired and supported me throughout my research journey, and to my devoted team, who have worked closely with me in the past decade to transform new concepts into clinical applications that ultimately benefit patients.” Professor Ng hopes that more young scientists will take bold steps and strive for innovations and breakthroughs that enhance human health.
About the New Cornerstone Investigator Program
The New Cornerstone Investigator Program is an independent, nonprofit funding initiative for basic research that focuses on original innovation and encourages free exploration. In 2022, Tencent pledged to provide RMB10 billion over 10 years to establish the New Cornerstone Investigator Program and facilitate exceptional scientists to devote themselves to basic research in a stable, long-term manner, realising original innovations from 0 to 1.