Scientist Says Strength of Fellow PIs Drew Him to HKUMed
Dr Rio Sugimura had never stepped foot in Hong Kong before accepting a position at HKUMed based on the research strengths of his future colleagues.
The Japan native studied medicine in his home country and chose to pursue medical research to deepen the understanding of hepatitis C, the virus that led to his mother’s premature death.
This decision led to a PhD at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in the United States followed by four years as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard. He then began to seek out roles as a principal investigator in Europe, the US and China.
In autumn 2020, Dr Sugimura, who specialises in immunotherapy and cancer immunology, was approached with an opportunity to become a principal investigator at the University of Hong Kong.
Moments into a video call with other recently-appointed principal investigators from the School of Biomedical Sciences, Dr Sugimura had already decided to join HKUMed.
Already familiar with the work of a few scientists on the call — Dr Ralf Jauch, Dr Joshua Ho and Dr Alan Wong — he was impressed to find such talented potential colleagues at the Faculty.
“They were amazing… All those newly-recruited PIs are doing high-level science and all of them have their own direction. That basically made my mind up,” he said.
Dr Sugimura is set to be joined by yet more talented colleagues as HKUMed relaunches efforts to recruit professoriate staff across all disciplines ahead of the Faculty’s 140th birthday in 2037.
In addition to the new PIs, Dr Sugimura was pleasantly surprised to find Professor Pengtao Liu had joined HKUMed and become director of the Centre for Translational Stem Biology — one of the Faculty’s five Innovation Hubs.
Long familiar with Professor Liu’s work, Dr Sugimura said he was impressed by HKUMed’s ability to attract such high-calibre scientists.
The Assistant Professor in the School of Biomedical Sciences, who now heads laboratories at both the centre and on the HKUMed campus, said his research benefits from working with his fellow PIs at the Innovation Hub.
“Without any barriers, I can even collaborate with the lab of Professor CS Lau, the Dean, and many other PIs from our school,” he said. “It’s easy to collaborate, exchange protocols, students and reagents.”
Dr Sugimura acknowledged the challenges of moving to a new city and setting up the Blood Engineering Lab, but said that assistance offered by HKU and the Faculty made the transition easier.
He was particularly relieved to find that HKU’s funding structure meant setting up his lab was simpler than expected.
Unlike in the US, the University pays PIs and their students a salary, which Dr Sugimura said allows him to dedicate grant money to pure science, such as equipment and reagents.
Now two years into his career at HKUMed, he is working to ensure his students make the most of his lab’s overseas connections. With the resumption of travel and conferences following the COVID-19 pandemic, he is now taking students to conferences in the US and Europe.
One of his students is undertaking a six-month exchange at the University of Cambridge, while the lab in Hong Kong has welcomed students from the University of Heidelberg in Germany and the University of Pavia in Italy.
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