Newsletter No. 141

CUHK N e w s l e t t e r 2 N o . 141 4th March 1999 Facul ty of Med i c i ne Honours Ten Favour i te Teachers T en teachers from the Faculty of Medicine who were chosen by their students as the most outstanding teachers of the year were honoured at the Second Annual Most Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award presentation ceremony on 3rd February. The event is held with an aim to encourage and recognize excellent teaching efforts. Winners were selected by students through secret ballot from each undergraduate year of the medicine and nursing programmes. One teacher was selected from the three-year pharmacy programme. The Outstanding Teachers for 1997- 98 were: Nursing Year 1 Prof. Janita Chau Nursing Year 2 Prof. Yvonne Wootton Nursing Year 3 Prof. Sally Chan Pharmacy Prof. Sophie Chang Medical Year 1 Prof. John A. Gosling (Anatomy) Medical Year 2 Prof. John Rudd (Pharmacology) Medical Year 3 Dr. Raphael Chan (Microbiology) and Prof. Eric Lam (Chemical Pathology) Medical Year 4 Prof. Gary Wong (Paediatrics) Medical Year 5 Prof. Sing Fai Leung (Clinical Oncology) Seminars to Improve Teaching and Learning Dr. John A. Centra, professor and chair of the Higher Education Program at Syracuse University, USA, was invited by the Teaching Development Unit to conduct five seminars on the theme of 'Improvement of College Teaching and Student Learning 'for staff of the University from 25th to 28th January 1999. Topics discussed included 'Effective Teaching: What is it?', 'Considerations in Evaluation Teaching', 'The Four Major Methods of Evaluating T e a c h i n g ' , 'Active Learning in College Classrooms', and 'Graduate Student Training in Teaching', Conference Examines Psychological Well-being of Pregnant Women Midwives from Hong Kong and Macau attended a conference on 'The Art and Science of Midwifery: Meeting the Psychological Needs of Childbearing Women' jointly organized by the University's Department of Nursing and the Hong Kong Midwives Association on 15th January. The function took place at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile and comprised two keynote speeches delivered by internationally renowned speakers, and research presentations by local midwives. Symposium Explores Future and Practice of Nursing Oncology The first Hong Kong Nursing Symposium on Cancer Care was organized jointly by the Departments of Nursing and Clinical Oncology on 23rd January at the Prince of Wales Hospital. The symposium brought together nurses from Asia and the West to discuss research and practice in oncology nursing. Over 150 delegates attended to hear key speakers from Hong Kong, UK, and Australia talk about the developments of oncology nursing and future trends in this region. Vertical Studio Building A group of architecture students from one of 12 teams setting up their roof structure design on a testing frame at Crescent Pond Park, Chung Chi campus. Students grouped in teams of 12 each from Years One, Two, and Three designed and built small roof structures as part of a week-long design programme called the Vertical Studio Building Project, an annual event in the Department of Architecture. Identificationof Gene Mutation Opens Doors to Cancer Cure P rof. Eric Lam Ching-wan, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Pathology, described his discovery of the mutations of a cancer- causing gene as a coincidence, a coincidence which incidentally led to the publication of his research in a leading scientific journal N a t u r e last year. In late 1995 Prof. Lam and three researchers from the University of Ca l i f o r n i a, San F r anc i sco, were discussing their skin tumour research p r o j e c t wh en Gene t e c h, a t op biotechnology company in the US, announced the identification of the DNA sequence of a gene encoding the Smoothened protein. Thus began a collaboration of the three parties, with Prof. Lam and the UC San Francisco researchers spearheading the research on whether the Smoothened protein causes cancer. Starting with Skin Cancer and Brain Tumour Each year there are over a million new cases worldwide of basal-cell carcinoma (BCC ), a common skin tumour in humans with a continuing increase in incidence. The Prince of Wales Hospital records about 300 cases a year. The tumour grows slowly and rarely metastasizes or causes death. Nevertheless it can cause considerable disease through local invasion and tissue destruction. Treatment is usually by surgical removal but recurrence is common because the tumour is difficult to remove completely. This kind of skin tumour usually arises in elderly light- skinned people as sporadic tumours. The research team attempted to ascertain whether mutations in the Smoothened gene cause sporadic BCC, and found evidence that they did. Further study by the team revealed that the gene mutation also causes a type of brain tumour most common ly f ound in children under the age of three. Prof. Lam pointed out that finding the mutation in two distinct tissues suggests that it may be involved in causing other cancers, such as cancer of the oesophagus, breast, and colon. The greatest challenge in their research, Prof. Lam said, was experimenting w i th a gene of which they previously knew almost nothing about. There were moments when he considered giving up. 'When we still had no clue after testing 20 BCC samples, we were very disappointed and frustrated,' he admitted. But w i t h hardwork and persistence, they finally detected cancer growth in the rat embryos injected with the mutated Smoothened gene. They then embarked on further investigations. While their co-researchers at UC San Francisco failed to find any activating mutation in the Smoothened gene of 30 brain tumour samples, the local team chanced upon it in a Hong Kong sample. 'That was the great moment,' Prof. Lam said, 'and we all heaved a great sigh of relief.' Pointers for Cancer Detection and Treatment The research f i nd i ngs po i nt diagnosis and treatment of such cancers in a new direction. A blood test for mutations in the Smoothened gene can aid early detection of these cancers which may be controlled by simply 'turning off the gene. Prof. Lam said the gene mutation, which was thought to be caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays, was slight and correction should not be difficult in the case of skin cancer. 'Our ultimate goal is to develop a topical gene replacement like an ointment to put on the tumour and make it go away,' he said. Last year, Prof. Lam obtained a direct grant of $97,000 f r om the Un i ve r s i ty to further explore the relationship between mutations of the Smoothened gene and BCCs and brain tumours among the Chinese. The findings of that research w i ll soon be released. P i e r a Chen Prof. Lam Ching-wan (standing) obtained his MB ChB from The Chinese University in 1991 and his MAACB, FRCPA, and FHKCPath in 1994, 1997, and 1998 respectively. He joined the University as assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Pathology in 1995.