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Professor CHEAH, Kathryn Song Eng 謝賞恩

Professor CHEAH, Kathryn Song Eng 謝賞恩

  • BSc (U of London); PhD (Cambridge)
  • Jimmy and Emily Tang Professor in Molecular Genetics
  • Chair of Biochemistry
L3-73, Laboratory Block, 21 Sassoon Road, Hong Kong
+852 3917 9240
+852 2855 1254
  • Understanding genes, their regulation and function with emphasis on development.
  • The genetic and molecular basis of inherited and degenerative skeletal disorders.

The Mission of her group is to make significant contributions through multidisciplinary synergistic partnerships and cutting edge science. Her group aspires to reach the long term Vision of “Bench to Bedside” research, translating discovery to the clinic. Some key contributions of her group are:

  • Sox2 as a master “hearing gene”;
  • Molecular insights into the function of Sox9, the master gene for development of cartilage;
  • Discovery of a mechanism that explains how mutations causing ER stress in chondrocytes, can affect their differentiation and cell death and thereby cause skeletal disorders;
  • Showed that chondrocytes become osteoblasts during bone formation and repair, thereby resolving a century-long debate about this possibility.

Professor Kathryn Cheah is Chair Professor of Biochemistry at The University of Hong Kong. She received a BSc degree in Biology from the University of London, U.K. and a PhD from the University of Cambridge, U.K. in Molecular Biology. After postdoctoral research in the University of Manchester (UK) and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London, she joined the University of Hong Kong in 1983. She was Head of the Department of Biochemistry from 1997-2009 and Director of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine Centre for Reproduction, Development and Growth from 2004-2009. She is Convenor of the University’s Strategic Research Theme on Development & Reproduction.

The driving motivation of her research is the realisation that, with an ageing population worldwide, genomic and regenerative medicine will play critical roles in helping to preserve healthy growth and quality of life. The Mission of her group is to make significant contributions through multidisciplinary synergistic partnerships and cutting edge science to enable ambitious research questions to be tackled. By applying the new knowledge to the development of strategies for the reconstitution or repair of tissues, her group aspires to reach the long term Vision of “Bench to Bedside” research, translating discovery to the clinic.

KC lab research pic

Research result pic

She is Director of a multidisciplinary collaborative group involving scientists and clinicians aiming to identify genetic factors that contribute to the risk of degenerative intervertebral disc disease (IDD), which is a common cause of lower back pain and disability. The group recently identified a new genetic risk factor for lumbar disc degeneration. These findings will contribute to a better prediction of total personal risk for IDD that will improve prevention and disease management.

She was awarded a Croucher Foundation Senior Fellowship in 2000 and was elected Fellow of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in 2013. She was the founding President of the Hong Kong Society for Developmental Biology (HKSDB) serving from 2004 to 2013 during which time she represented Hong Kong in the Asia-Pacific Developmental Biology Network (APDBN) and the International Society of Developmental Biology. She was the President of the International Society for Matrix Biology 2006-2008. In 2012 she was elected to the Board of Directors of the International Society of Differentiation.

She was Co-Vice-Chair and Co-Chair for the Gordon Research Conferences (GRC) on Cartilage Biology and Pathology in 2009 and 2011 respectively. In 2012 she was appointed to the GRC Advisory Board for Hong Kong. She has organised several Croucher Foundation Advanced Study Institutes on Genetics and on Stem Cells and actively promotes public understanding of science.

  • Postdoc Fellow in Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
  1. M. Wang*, Z J. Tan*, B. Niu, K.Y. Tsang, A. Tai, W.C.W. Chan, R.L.K. Lo, K.K.H. Leung, N.W.F. Dung, N. Itoh, M.Q. Zhang, D. Chan and ¥K.S.E. Cheah (2018)  Inhibiting the Integrated Stress Response Prevents Aberrant Chondrocyte Differentiation and Alleviates Skeletal Defects in Chondrodysplasia.  eLife, e37673.  doi: 10.7554/eLife.37673
  2. Z. Tan*, B. Niu*, K.Y. Tsang, I.G. Melhado, S. Ohba, X. He, Y. Huang, C. Wang, A.P. McMahon, R. Jauch, D. Chan, M.Q. Zhang, ¥K.S.E. Cheah. (2018)  Synergistic co-regulation and competition by a SOX9-GLI-FOXA phasic transcriptional network coordinate chondrocyte differentiation transitions.  PLoS Genet. 14(4):e1007346. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007346.
  3. A. Tai, M. Cheung, Y-H Huang, R. Jauch, M. E. Bronner, ¥K.S.E. Cheah. (2016) SOXE neofunctionalization and elaboration of the neural crest during chordate evolution. Scientific Reports 13:6:34964. doi: 10.1038/srep34964. 
  4. K.Y. Tsang, D. Chan, ¥K.S.E. Cheah (2015). Fate of growth plate hypertrophic chondrocytes: Death or lineage extension? Development, Growth & Differentiation.  57: 179-192. 

  5. L. Yang, K.Y. Tsang, H.C. Tang, D. Chan, & ¥K.S.E. Cheah (2014) Hypertrophic chondrocytes can become osteoblasts and osteocytes in endochondral bone formation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 111(33): 12097-102 Access the recommendation on F1000Prime
  6. C.W. Cheng, B. Niu, M. Warren, L.H. Pevny, R. Lovell-Badge, ¥T. Hwa, & ¥K.S.E. Cheah (2014) Predicting the spatiotemporal dynamics of hair follicle patterns in the developing mouse. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 111(7): 2596-2601. Access the recommendation on F1000Prime
  7. J.A.J. Liu, M.H. Wu, C.H. Yan, B.K.H. Chau, H. So, A. Ng, A. Chan, & K.S.E. Cheah, J. Briscoe, & M. Cheung. (2013) Phosphorylation of Sox9 is required for neural crest delamination and is regulated downstream of BMP and canonical Wnt signaling. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 110(8): 2882-7.
  8. V.Y.L. Leung, B. Gao, K.K.H. Leung, I. Melhado, S.L. Wynn, T.Y.K. Au, N.W.F. Dung, J.Y.B. Lau, A.C.Y. Mak, D. Chan, & ¥K.S.E. Cheah (2011)  Sox9 governs differentiation stage-specific gene expression in growth plate chondrocytes via direct concomitant transactivation and repression.  PLoS Genetics 7(11): e1002356.
  9. A.W.L. LeungS.Y.Y. Wong, D. Chan, ¥P.P.L. Tam, & ¥K.S.E. Cheah (2010) Loss of procollagen IIA from the anterior mesendoderm disrupts the development of mouse embryonic forebrain.  Developmental Dynamics 239: 2319-2329.
  10. A.C. Mak,. I.Y.Y Szeto, B.  Fritzsch, & ¥K.S.E. Cheah (2009) Differential and overlapping expression pattern of Sox2 and Sox9 in inner ear development. Gene Expression Patterns 9(6): 444-53.
  11. K. Y. Tsang*, D. Chan*, D. Cheslett, W. C. W. Chan, C. L. So, I. G. Melhado, T. W. Y. Chan, K.M. Kwan, E.B. Hunziker, Y. Yamada, J. F. Bateman, K. M. C. Cheung, & ¥K.S.E. Cheah (2007). Surviving ER Stress Is Coupled to Altered Chondrocyte Differentiation and Function PLoS Biology 5(3): e44. (*equal contribution)Access the recommendation on F1000Prime
  12. A.E. Kiernan*, A.L. Pelling*, K.K.H. Leung, A.S.P. Tang, D.M. Bell, C. Tease, R. Lovell-Badge, K.P. Steel & ¥K.S.E. Cheah (2005) Sox2 is required for sensory organ development in the mammalian inner ear. Nature 434: 1031-5.

    (* equal contribution; ¥ corresponding author)
  1. K.S.E Cheah & K.M.C. Cheung (2002). Uses of a transgenic mouse containing a type X collagen mutant. US Patent no. 6,369,295
  2. K.S.E Cheah & K.M.C. Cheung (2005). Uses of a transgenic animals containing a type X collagen mutant. European Patent no. 1,159,423, German part no. 69924158.8.
  • UGC Areas of Excellence Scheme
  • RGC Theme-based Research Scheme
    • 2015-2019: Genetics and Functional Genomics of Neural Crest Stem Cells and Associated Disease: Hirschsprung Disease (Co-PI)
    • 2013-2018: Functional analyses of how genomic variation affects personal risk for degenerative skeletal disorders (Project coordinator)
  • RGC GRF Projects
    • 2017-2020: Molecular control of hypertrophic chondrocyte cell fate and lineage extension
    • 2014-2017: Mechanisms controlling determination of sensory versus non-sensory fate in inner ear development
    • 2013-2016: Mechanistic insights into the genesis and physiological role of hypertrophic chondrocyte-derived osteoblasts
    • 2012-2015: Genetic analyses of the roles of Sox2 and Sox18 in hair follicle development
    • 2010-2014: Genetic analyses of sensory fate determination in inner ear development
  • NSFC/RGC Joint Research Project
    • 2013-2017: Identifying critical transitions and gene regulatory networks controlling phases of chondrocyte differentiation in the growth plate
  • 1997: Honorary Professor at Peking Union Medical College, Beijing China
  • 2000: Croucher Foundation Senior Fellowship of HK and the HKU Outstanding Researcher award.
  • 2011-2012: Senior External Fellow of the University of Freiberg Institute of Advanced Studies, Germany.
  • 2013: Elected Fellow of The World Academy of Science (TWAS).
  • Advisory Board member: J. Biomedical Science 1999–
  • Editorial Board member: Development Growth & Differentiation (DGD), 2006–
  • Advisory Editorial Board: BioEssays, 2009–
  • Associate Editor: Genesis, 2010–
  • Editorial Board member: Nature Scientific Reports, 2011–
  • Editorial Committee member: Annual Reviews of Genomics & Human Genetics, 2012–2017
  • Guest Associate Editor: PLoS Genetics, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017​