Top schools to set up neuroscience research center to tackle aging population

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HONG KONG (Xinhua) – The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and three world’s top universities announced Wednesday to establish a research center on neurodegenerative diseases in Hong Kong to help tackle the pressing challenge of aging population.

Scientists of HKUST, Boston Children’s Hospital – a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Stanford University School of Medicine, and University College London signed here a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on their partnership to engage in advanced translational neuroscience research.

As the first step of their collaboration, the four partners have jointly applied to join an innovation promotion program initiated by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government, and intend to establish the Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases if their application is approved.

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The planned research center, described as a “consortium” with the world’s leading expertise and talents in the field, will focus on Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most prevalent neurodegenerative disease.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a major health crisis of our time, but limited knowledge of the disease is hindering the development of urgently-needed diagnostics and therapeutics,” said Professor Nancy Ip, vice president for research and development at HKUST and the project leader.

Three major inter-related research programs will be initiated with the goals of developing AD biomarkers for disease monitoring and therapeutic strategies, as well as identifying systemic factors and therapeutic targets for treating the disease.

The multi-institutional project team also aims to generate new insights on disease pathways to drive translational research efforts in developing improved treatments and tools for early diagnosis, according to Ip.

AD, one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the elderly, is now afflicting almost 47 million people worldwide. The number of patients is projected to increase rapidly and reach 131 million by 2050 due to aging populations worldwide.

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“The impact of an aging population on society is one pressing challenge, and with it comes the increasing risk of being affected by neurodegenerative diseases. The problem is especially pertinent to Hong Kong, as 36 percent of our population will be over the age of 65 by 2064,” said HKUST Council Chairman Andrew Liao.

“The government has committed both funding and efforts to building an environment for Hong Kong’s development in science and innovation,” Mr Liao said.

“It is our pleasure and responsibility to contribute to the city’s health sector by creating a platform for these top-notch researchers. I look forward to significant breakthroughs being made by the center in the near future.”

HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who witnessed the signing of the MoU, said that Hong Kong has a “singular ability” to create connections for international cooperation, and developing Hong Kong into an innovation and technology hub is central to her government’s economic policy.

“I feel that here in HKUST, there is a real desire to innovate. I see the opportunity that the research we do will not only lead to scientific advances but also has the great potential to spin off into commercial enterprises,” said Professor Thomas Rando of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Stanford University School of Medicine.

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