New hope for cancer treatment

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is one of the 10 most common cancers in Hong Kong, with over 800 new cases a year. HKBU scholars along with their collaborators developed the world's first chemical compound that can detect Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-infected cells in mice and simultaneously inhibit these tumour cells with an efficacy rate of above 90%. This discovery lays a good foundation for the development of therapeutics for use against diseases associated with EBV, including nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

The cross-disciplinary study led by Associate Professor of HKBU Department of Chemistry Dr Gary Wong and Professor Mak Nai-ki of the Department of Biology showed that this chemical compound, the probe, containing the inhibitor luminesces when bound to the EBV encoded viral protein EBNA1 of EBV-infected cells in mice. It could thus be applied as an agent to detect the presence of tumours. The probe can also prevent the formation of EBNA1 homodimer and results in a 93% reduction in size of EBV-positive tumours in mice.

Hong Kong Baptist University

EBV-positive tumours in mice treated with probe shrinks by 93%.

Dr Wong believes the study is not only a groundbreaking achievement, but also highly encouraging as this probe could potentially be applied to the imaging of tumour cells in the human body and lead to the development of therapeutics and enhance the overall efficacy of targeted therapeutics. "The establishment of EBV latency is closely associated with the oncogenic development of several human malignancies, including nasopharyngeal carcinoma. In the past few decades, EBNA1 has been considered an attractive target for anti-viral therapy, attracting a great deal of attention from researchers working in this community. Although several studies on the inhibition of EBNA1, a dual-probe to track EBNA1 at the nucleus level, have been published, an agent with dual functions is currently not available. Our team has developed the world's first dual agent that can simultaneously perform imaging and suppress EBV-associated tumours."

The research collaborators, who are experts in various disciplines in HKBU, include Director of the Clinical Division of the School of Chinese Medicine Professor Bian Zhaoxiang, Research Assistant Professor of the Department of Biology Dr Lung Hong-lok, Senior Research Assistant of the Department of Chemistry Miss Jiang Lijun, as well as scholars of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, The University of Hong Kong, and Durham University and University of Birmingham in the UK.

Hong Kong Baptist University

(From left) Dr Gary Wong, Dr Lung Hong-lok, Miss Jiang Lijun and Professor Mak Nai-ki

This groundbreaking research project, entitled "EBNA1-targeted probe for the imaging and growth inhibition of tumours associated with the Epstein-Barr virus", was published in the renowned international journal Nature Biomedical Engineering. Both Nature Biomedical Engineering and Cell Chemical Biology published a commentary highlighting the findings and significance of this study.

Click to learn more: Department of Chemistry