Health and medical research funding for three Covid-19 projects
Health and medical research funding for three Covid-19 projects
HMRF funded project owners
(From left) Dr Ioannis Magouras, Dr Li Jun, Professor Vanessa Barrs and Dr Sean Yuan Hsiang-yu.


Three projects at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) have been granted $8.3 million in funding by the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) under the Food and Health Bureau, spotlighting our valuable contributions to fighting Covid-19. 

Two of the funded projects fall under the area of “Effective detection and surveillance”. One of these projects is led by Professor Vanessa Barrs, Associate Dean at the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences, and Dr Li Jun, Assistant Professor in the Department of Infectious Disease and Public Health (PH).

Their research explores the implications for control of human infections through a system-level, multidimensional quantification and prediction of SARS-CoV-2 infections among animals. SARS-CoV-2 is the strain of coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The team will collect specimens from the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of domestic, farm and wild animals in geographical regions with confirmed cases of Covid-19 among humans in order to determine the extent of and risk factors for natural exposure to SARS-CoV-2 as well as the directionality of SARS-CoV-2 transmission events between humans and animals. They will also identify key microbial signatures in the specimen that potentially regulate infection of SARS-CoV-2. 

“We aim to develop predictive models for risk assessment and management of SARS-CoV-2 based on the microbial spectrum and other host features,” Dr Li said.

The other funded research project in the same category will be led by Dr Ioannis Magouras, Assistant Professor in PH. This project will develop sampling and detection procedures for water sources to improve surveillance and the early detection of local and imported Covid-19 cases to Hong Kong.

As water can serve as a reservoir for viruses, the research team will collect waste water from residential areas and Hong Kong International Airport; and toilet waste from arriving airplanes on a weekly basis. Using advanced molecular tools such as digital PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), the team will determine the viral load of any samples collected from these sources containing SARS-CoV-2.

The third funded research project falls under the tier “Enhanced infection control and prevention strategies” and will be led by Dr Sean Yuan Hsiang-yu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. 

Immunity to Covid-19 will gradually strengthen while the virus continues to be transmitted and after a vaccine is introduced, according to Dr Yuan, who is working on an individual-based model that will predict the effects of quarantine, contact tracing and border control measures under different scenarios for reopening the city. 

Dr Yuan and his team will also develop a risk assessment tool for the prevention and control of Covid-19, taking account of the heterogeneity of a population, the relaxation of social distancing and strengthening immunity. 

“The study aims to improve current government intervention policies for preventing Covid-19 outbreaks. It will allow for a better understanding of the potential impact of travel bubbles and the relaxation of social distancing,” Dr Yuan said.

HMRF, which was established by the Food and Health Bureau in 2011, aims to encourage, facilitate and support health and medical research.