In Focus - Issue 29 (Spring 2018)

Prof Wu’s ndings should be generally applicable to many cancer types. “Currently, people who study cancer from the DNA mutation perspective have found evidence that cancer is a disease caused by these mutations. Those who study cancers and their growth have evidence that there may be a so-called cancer stem cell giving rise to the rest of the cancer. So far there is no way to directly connect these two phenomena,” she said. Bioengineering pioneer Prof Wu was born in China and raised in the Mainland, Hong Kong, and Australia. She initially took up biology because her “tiger parents” thought it was a promising direction for a career. Before long, she had become utterly fascinated, leading her to the “eureka” moment during her rst single-cell experiment where she saw individual cells being caught in each chamber inside a microfluidic biochip. “Wow, I’m one of the very rst people to do this,” she recalled thinking. “It was really exciting.” She studied for her bachelor degree in bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley and for her master’s and doctoral degrees in the same eld at Stanford University. At Stanford she was supervised by Prof Stephen Quake, a leading gure in genomics, biophysics and bioengineering technologies that facilitate rapid analysis of the human genome and microfluidic automation. She was awarded the Bio-X Bowes Graduate Student Fellowship for interdisciplinary research and the Siebel Scholarship for top bioengineering graduates. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Quake lab, she was one of the rst to come up with a framework for analyzing complex single-cell datasets. Prof Wu joined HKUST in December as a faculty member. During interviews with Asian institutions, she found HKUST to have the most open and independent academic culture. She was also drawn to the international atmosphere, culturally diverse and productive faculty, dynamic students, and the University’s spectacular campus. Practical applications With an ultimate goal of bridging gaps between biology and engineering, Prof Wu is not only working on basic research but also on practical ways to bene t healthcare. Her research team is developing DNA-based diagnostics for intensive care units together with Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In addition, as the co-founder of Agenovir Corporation, a US start-up established in , she is driving forward the use of genome editing technology to target and delete disease- and cancer-causing viruses inside the genome. In targeting destruction of viral DNA, the biomedical rm aims to remove viruses from the cell to make the cure permanent. Prof Wu’s contributions to the eld of single-cell analysis technologies and her work at Agenovir were recognized internationally when she was named one of MIT Technology Review’s Top Innovators Under in Asia in . Her research has also been published in prestigious journals including Nature, Nature Methods, and PLoS Genetics. With her passion for solving problems, Prof Wu nds engineering both rewarding and empowering. “When I am presented with challenges, it feels extra-good to overcome them,” she said. “I hope more women will consider engineering as a career to change the status quo and to say, ‘I can do it too’.” 13 IN FOCUS Team spirit and novel technologies Prof Angela Wu considers the founding of Agenovir Corporation, together with her Stanford University PhD advisor Prof Stephen Quake and two other Stanford University a liates, to be a milestone in her learning curve, providing insight into the importance of good communication, team spirit, respect for di erent perspectives and partners with complementary skill sets. Prof Wu still harbors a passion for bringing useful technologies to market to help patients, and her experience at Agenovir helped her explore how to translate academic concepts into a commercial setting. She hopes to continue her entrepreneurial pursuits in her career at HKUST.