Advancing translational research on metabolic associated fatty liver disease

13 Jul 2023

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The research team led by Professor Jia Wei (left) and Dr Kenneth Cheung Chat-pan will explore host-gut microbiota co-metabolism in metabolic associated fatty liver disease.


A one-year research project led by HKBU titled “Dysregulated Host – Gut Microbiota Co-Metabolism in Metabolic Associated Fatty Liver Disease” has been awarded over HK$7.2 million in research funding from the Theme-based Research Scheme (13th round) under the Research Grants Council.

This exploratory funding will enable the research team to produce preliminary results which lay the foundation for the research of the gut microbiota metabolism, a far-reaching and promising research area, with huge potential benefits to human health.

Exploring host-gut microbiota co-metabolism in metabolic associated fatty liver disease

Metabolic associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) coexists and acts synergistically with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) to increase the risk of adverse clinical outcomes such as liver cirrhosis and cancer, with substantial public health burdens worldwide.

In recent years, the interactions between the host and gut microbiota in terms of metabolism have gained significant attention as a cutting-edge research area. The study led by HKBU aims to shed light on the molecular connections between MAFLD and T2DM, with a specific focus on host-gut microbiota interactions.

The cross-institutional collaborative research team is led by Professor Jia Wei, Associate Dean (International Collaboration) of Chinese Medicine and Cheung On Tak Endowed Professor in Chinese Medicine, and Dr Kenneth Cheung Chat-pan, Research Assistant Professor of the Teaching and Research Division of the School of Chinese Medicine at HKBU. The research team also includes researchers from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Professor Jia says: “The research will identify key microbial metabolites in the blood and gut microbiota signatures that are closely associated with the development of MAFLD in individuals, both with and without comorbid T2DM. The team will also create a database to identify microbial species and metabolites that can be used for early detection and risk assessment of MAFLD associated with T2DM.

“By exploring these interactions, this research aims to establish Hong Kong as a leader in translational research on MAFLD and T2DM.”

Creating impactful research outcomes

Outcomes of the research project are expected to have substantial impact on other researches in the field, and create social and economic value through the enhancement to public health.

The development of diagnostic technologies of MAFLD and T2DM facilitated by the project will enable efficient screening and evaluation of patients, leading to more effective clinical interventions. It is also expected that the technologies will empower researchers in their translational work, and advance their understanding and treatment of the two diseases.

In the long term, clinicians and health centres will leverage the novel diagnostic technologies to identify pathological conditions at an early stage, which facilitates the prescription of individualised small molecule drugs aligned with the principles of precision medicine.