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Exploiting stemness as a cancer cell vulnerability using hepatocellular carcinoma as a model system

School of Biomedical Sciences

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Dr S Ma Applications accepted all year round Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Tumors are composed of non-homogeneous cell populations exhibiting varying degrees of genetic and functional heterogeneity. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are capable of sustaining tumors by manipulating genetic and non-genetic factors to metastasize, resist treatment, and maintain the tumor microenvironment. Understanding the key traits and mechanisms of CSC survival provides opportunities to improve patient outcomes via improved prognostic models and therapeutics. We and others have gathered ample evidence to show that tumor growth of the locally prevalent cancer type Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) is also fueled by CSCs. Our past research on liver cancer stemness have made several novel and important findings with some of the work resulting in successful patent applications and commercial licenses. These new exciting findings provoke us to propose a multi-disciplinary team to study how stemness can be exploited as a cancer cell vulnerability. Efforts are directed at conducting both basic and pre-clinical studies using a combination of molecular, cellular, biochemical, genetics and disease modeling approaches. New knowledge gained from findings of this study will define new opportunities for innovative treatments of HCC targeted at the important liver CSC subset, which is believed to represent the root of cancer.

Dr Stephanie Ma obtained her B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada in 2000 and 2003, respectively. She then graduated with a Ph.D. degree in 2007 from The University of Hong Kong with an outstanding ranking and was awarded the Li Ka Shing Prize for the Best PhD Thesis of that year. Since then, she has been working at HKU where she is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Biomedical Sciences at the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine. Dr Ma's research interest is on exploiting stemness as a cancer cell vulnerability. According to the ISI Essential Science Indicator, Dr Ma is currently listed as the top 1% of most cited scholars under the category of 'clinical medicine' and 'all fields'. She is also the recipient of the 2008 Young Scientist Award in Life Sciences from the Hong Kong Institution of Science, the 2012-13 Outstanding Young Researcher Award from HKU, the 2014 Croucher Innovation Award, the 2014 Scientific Research Outstanding Achievement Awards (Second-class Award in Science and Technology Section) from the Higher Education Institution of China, the 2017 University of British Columbia Alumni Builder Award (Canada) as well as the 2018 Ton Duc Thang University Scientific Prize - Rising Star Award (Vietnam). Dr Ma is also recently elected as a Founding Member of the Hong Kong Young Academy of Sciences.

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