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HKU COVID-19 research named landmark paper in 200 years by The Lancet - A milestone signifying HKU’s contributions in the Greater Bay Area to achieve global impact

A research article on COVID-19 published on 24 January 2020 by a medical research team at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has been chosen by the world’s highest-impact medical journal The Lancet as one of the landmark papers in its 200-year history.

The HKU paper marks the first documentation of the person-to-person transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) which causes the coronavirus diseases 2019 (COVID-19).

The study, led by microbiologists Professor Kwok-Yung Yuen and Dr. Jasper Fuk-Woo Chan from the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, in collaboration with the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital, provided the important scientific foundation for the pandemic control measures during the formulation of public health policy.

It also signifies the importance and success of HKU’s contributions in the Greater Bay Area to achieve international recognition and generate impact.

Founded in 1823 and in celebration of its 200th anniversary, The Lancet selected 34 publications with key discoveries or medical breakthroughs in its historical timeline. The HKU article was the only publication chosen from the HKSAR.

The paper is among other important landmark papers on infection chosen for the timeline including “On the antiseptic principle in the practice of surgery” by Joseph Lister (1867), “Penicillin as a chemotherapeutic agent” by Ernest Chain and Howard Florey (1940), and ”Unidentified curved bacilli on gastric epithelium in active chronic gastritis” by John Warren and Barry Marshall (1983).

Two other publications from Mainland China on the clinical features of COVID-19 by Chaolin Huang and colleagues (2020), and antimicrobial resistance by Yi-Yun Liu and colleagues (2015) are also included in The Lancet’s historical timeline.

Professor Xiang Zhang, President and Vice-Chancellor of HKU, thanked scholars in various disciplines for their many years of hard work and the supporters who have believed in the University’s endeavours.

“The acclaim we have received is another milestone in our quest for excellence, innovation and impact, and will inspire and encourage not only our students, but the entire HKU family. The collaboration of Professor Yuen and Dr Chan with the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital in achieving a major medical discovery is solid affirmation of our efforts, which will pave the way for future HKU initiatives in the Greater Bay Area. We will make use of these opportunities to continue forging ahead with research that will benefit humanity.” Professor Zhang said.

The HKU research studied a Shenzhen family who developed unexplained pneumonia after a visit to Wuhan at the end of 2019. The infected family members were admitted to the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital where the research team was able to observe the familial cluster and collect clinical samples. After conducting complete virus genome sequences of the patients, the researchers proved for the first time that person-to-person transmission and intercity spread of COVID-19 by air travel were possible.

“In this case, these patients served as soft intelligence that certainly helped us to prepare for the onslaught of emerging infectious diseases. From a medical research perspective, the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital provides the availability of a larger variety of diseases that helps to improve the teaching of medical students and future research,” said Professor Yuen. He particularly thanked two former Deans of Medicine Professor Li Sumping and Professor Grace Tang. Professor Li made the collaboration agreement with the Shenzhen municipal government in 2011 on the running of the HKU Shenzhen hospital according to a modern medical management model supported by HKU. Professor Tang was the Founding Hospital Chief Executive between 2011 and 2016. Professor Yuen himself was the first Chief-of-Service of the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infection Control at HKU-Shenzhen Hospital from 2012 to 2020. It is in this setting that the HKU team had the chance of seeing the first familial cluster of COVID-19 demonstrating the high attack rate of person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

200 years of The Lancet landmark papers:

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HKU COVID-19 research named landmark paper in 200 years by The Lancet

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